Chicago Opera Theater to Present Duke Ellington's QUEENIE PIE, Begin. 2/15
In one of its most ambitious projects to date, Chicago Opera Theater (COT) will collaborate with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra (CJO) to present the Chicago premiere of Duke Ellington's only opera "Queenie Pie," running February 15 - March 5 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Street. Tickets ($35 - $125) are now on sale.
Featuring a rousing musical score that blends Ellington's signature big band sound and clever lyrics with the musical styles of opera, jazz and musical theater, the opera will be conducted by CJO Artistic Director Jeff Lindberg, with direction and choreography by Ken Roht. Originally commissioned by New York PBS affiliate WNET as a television piece for Lena Horne and featuring a libretto by Betty McGettigan, "Queenie Pie" was unfinished at the time of the Ellington's death in 1974. Chicago Opera Theater's production, like the handful of productions mounted by other companies in the past, interpolates additional songs from Ellington's canon to complete the score, and features a new adaptation of the libretto by Ken Roht, as well as new orchestrations by Jeff Lindberg.
"'Queenie Pie' is a neglected gem, fascinating musically, dramatically and historically," said Andreas Mitisek, COT's General Director. "In keeping with our mission of producing adventurous opera experiences, particularly new and rarely performed work, we are excited to bring Chicago audiences a largely unknown piece by one of America's greatest composers."
Ellington's "street opera" tells a story inspired by the life of Madam C. J. Walker, the first female African-American self-made millionaire, who developed and sold a line of hair and beauty products. Queenie Pie's business is challenged by competing entrepreneur Café Au Lait, a younger, light-skinned beauty from New Orleans. Set in the Harlem Renaissance, the story has been refocused for COT's production by the creative team. "The goal is to contemporize the piece, and also to make the piece timeless, while dealing with challenging social issues that seem to persist," says Director/Choreographer Ken Roht.
Reviewing a 1986 production of the opera, Robert Palmer, writing for the New York Times, called "Queenie Pie" a "wonderfully vital and coherent work. In fact, it is something of a marvel. One could justifiably call it a comic opera, since the narrative is advanced primarily through song and recitative.... a superior evening's entertainment, but, more importantly, it is an evening worthy of Duke Ellington's talents."
Los Angeles-based director and choreographer Ken Roht has staged Long Beach Opera's productions of Poulenc's "The Breasts of Tiresias," Bohuslav Martinu's "Tears of a Knife" and Robert Kurka's "The Good Soldier Schweik." Roht relishes the opportunity to work on "Queenie Pie" saying, "It is an honor to lend my perspective to the original libretto...It remains an ebullient melodrama due to Mr. Ellington's amazing, multi-faceted music and the story's dreamlike, highly allegorical plot of two vastly different women, who are very much the same."
Queenie Pie is the second co-production shared between Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera, both of which are under the direction of Andreas Mitisek.
The cast of "Queenie Pie" includes Karen Marie Richardson, best known for her Chicago performances in "Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz Gospel Messiah" in the title role; Anna Bowen as Café O'lay; Keithon Gipson as Holt Faye/King; and Jeffrey Polk as Lil' Daddy. The conductor is CJO Artistic Director Jeffrey Lindberg; stage direction and chorography is by Ken Roht. The design team includes Danila Korogodsky (sets); Brandon Baruch (lights) and Dabney Ross Jones (costumes).