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Duke Ellington's Jazz Opera 'Queenie Pie' Proves Difficult for the Stage, Just Not for Chicago Opera Theater

by Ian Holubiak   Feb 6, 2014 15:41 PM EST

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It wasn't enough for Duke Ellington to contribute some 3,000 songs to the Great American Fakebook. No, towards the end of his life, he began composing a jazz opera: Queenie Pie.

Now, his work may not be considered alongside the great operatic majority, especially since it replaces cadenzas with scatting. And it is precisely this kind of freedom that proves most difficult when reviving the piece for the stage.

Loosely based on the first-ever female millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker, Ellington's story indeed concerns a dark-skinned beautician (Queenie Pie) who is lauded by her fellow hairdressers. That is, until a lighter-skinned woman, Café O'Lay, tries to steal her shine.

As one would surmise, the issue with the two focuses, in part, on race. But the duo also rival for the same lover. That is, until he's shot dead by O'Lay...after which Queenie Pie retreats to a magical island.

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