Learn how Will Liverman embodies the role of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie in an exclusive Q&A
Now that it’s March, the countdown to Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD is in full swing! This March 24 and 26, head to the Harris Theater to witness firsthand the electrifying, 90-minute chamber opera that explores the extraordinary life of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. The opera follows the dynamic musician’s spirit as he composes his final masterpiece in the days after his death, as well as the friends and family who are along for the journey.
Will Liverman, who sings the role of fellow jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, took the time to answer our questions about this exciting Chicago premiere. He shares what it takes to play the part of Dizzy, his experience performing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater (YARDBIRD was the first opera ever performed there!), and how he plans to spend his time in Chicago.
Why is the story of YARDBIRD so important?
Jazz music is a distinctly American art form and Charlie Parker was one of the people who pushed jazz music into new territory. His story certainly deserves to be told!
What interested you most about portraying the character of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie in YARDBIRD?
This is the first time I've portrayed a character based on an actual person. I was excited by the amount of material I could use to inform my performance, which is something I've never had access to before when researching a role.
How do you physically and mentally prepare to sing the role of Dizzy?
I studied Dizzy's life as an artist and watched and listened to any of his performances I could find. I also researched his relationship with Charlie Parker and used these real-life items to fuel my performance.
How was it to perform YARDBIRD at the Apollo Theater, being the first time an opera has been done at that venue and as a place where Charlie Parker himself performed?
Getting to perform YARDBIRD on that stage was absolutely historic. I also think having an opera in that venue opened the doors for audiences who may not be apt to go see an opera feel that this was an approachable piece.
How will jazz and opera commingle in YARDBIRD? How challenging is it mixing elements of the two art forms?
Audiences will hear the traditional opera sound, but with some different beats, rhythms, and orchestrations. Before YARDBIRD, I wouldn't have thought these two styles of music would go together, but it’s been a fun experiment to watch this work develop and see how these two styles of music do meld.
How did your time at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center help you prepare for this or other roles?
I had such a positive experience at the Ryan Opera Center and the three years I spent in the program helped prepare me for a well-rounded opera career. The mixture of performance opportunities plus intensive voice and language coachings and seminars gave me the tools I need to prepare for many different roles.
What makes performing for a Chicago audience different than performing in other parts of the world?
I consider Chicago my adopted hometown. There’s nowhere like it and Chicago residents (and audiences) are always warm and welcoming. I keep an apartment in Chicago and live here when I'm not performing in other areas so whenever I get to spend extra time in Chicago, I really do feel at home. Particularly coming back to rehearse at Lyric where I spent three years learning and working is a true homecoming for me.
What should Chicago audiences look forward to most about YARDBIRD?
Chicago audiences should look forward to seeing a piece that they are probably not accustomed to seeing. YARDBIRD is unconventional because it fuses two different styles of music, and there are surprising melodic and rhythmic changes. Even though it focuses on Parker’s life, it is not a standard biographical opera. It’s my hope that audiences walk away with a greater understanding of the contributions Parker made to the great American art form of jazz, and that although he struggled with drug abuse and other issues in his life, his music and his horn were his constants.
What are some things you like to do while performing in Chicago in your free time?
I am a brunch connoisseur and I have my favorite go-to spots in the area that I frequent. I also am lucky enough to live right by the Cubs stadium in Wrigleyville so I enjoy catching a game whenever I can!