Chicago Opera Theater Takes On Queenie Pie

How Duke Ellington’s 1962 composition challenges classical opera conventions.

Duke Ellington Photo: Don Casper/Chicago Tribune

Duke Ellington wrote an opera?

Yes—and “we’re going to catch hell from opera traditionalists,” says Jerry Tietz, the Chicago Opera Theater’s general manager, of the company’s new production Queenie Pie. “But,” he adds, “it’s good to test the boundaries of classical opera.”

Duke Ellington’s unfinished 1962 work features a Harlem beauty queen who invents an elixir that preserves youth and good hair. The $500,000 production (a collaboration with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and Long Beach Opera) is the fifth American staging of the obscure opera and the first in Chicago (see “Chicago Guide: The Absolute Best Things to Do in February”).

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