Wednesday, September 18, marks the start of O19, the third edition of Opera Philadelphia’s annual season-opening festival. With two world premieres, two company premieres, a young artist showcase, and a special celebration to honor Music Director Corrado Rovaris – all accompanied by a series of pop-up cabaret performances and a free open-air HD screening in the beloved “Opera on the Mall” series – this trailblazing 12-day immersion will be held at multiple venues across the city. Once again bringing diverse audiences together through the shared experience of opera in the City of Brotherly Love, Festival O continues to underscore Opera Philadelphia’s standing as “one of the most creative and ambitious companies in this country” (New York Times). As Opera News recognizes, “In just a few seasons, Opera Philadelphia has established itself as a model for innovation in the classical-music industry.”
O19 opens with the world premiere production of Denis & Katya (Sep 18–29), a new chamber opera commissioned and produced by Opera Philadelphia in collaboration with Music Theatre Wales and Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier. The winner of the 2019 FEDORA-GENERALI Prize for Opera, the multimedia work is the creation of Philip Venables – “one of the finest composers around” (The Guardian) – and librettist/director Ted Huffman, the duo behind the award-winning Royal Opera House commission 4.48 Psychosis. Inspired by the true story of 15-year-old runaways Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who became social media sensations when they livestreamed an armed stand-off with Russian Special Forces that culminated in their own deaths, Denis & Katya makes its debut at Philadelphia’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Its double cast pairs Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finalist Theo Hoffman with the “poised, fluid singing and shrewdly measured acting” (Opera News) of Siena Licht Miller, and Welsh Theatre Award nominee Johnny Herford with Emily Edmonds, “surely a star in the making” (BachTrack). Emily Senturia serves as the production’s music director and Ksenia Ravvina as its co-creator and dramaturg. Click here to see the video trailer for Opera Philadelphia’s world premiere production of Denis & Katya.
O19 continues with the company premiere of Handel’s English-language opera Semele (Sep 19–28). With a libretto that Restoration playwright William Congreve based on one of the more sexually charged myths in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Semele is a story of unbridled lust, jealousy and revenge that features some of Handel’s most glorious orchestral music and virtuosic vocal writing. Now, in a co-production by Opera Philadelphia and Opera Omaha, the work receives an innovative new treatment “filled with energetic storytelling” (Opera News) from visionary director James Darrah, whose past successes include Opera Philadelphia’s acclaimed world premiere of Breaking the Waves. Grammy-winner Amanda Forsythe makes her company debut in the title role, alongside Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader, as seen in Opera Philadelphia’s stagings of Carmen and La traviata, respectively, with Gary Thor Wedow, of O17’s War Stories, leading the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra. Click here to see the video trailer for Opera Philadelphia’s company premiere of Semele.
Launching Opera Philadelphia’s mainstage season at the Academy of Music is the eagerly awaited company premiere of Prokofiev’s comedic gem, The Love for Three Oranges (Sep 20–29) in a “masterful new production” (Opera News) by South African director Alessandro Talevi. Although the opera received its 1921 world premiere in Chicago, today it is rarely seen in the States, and is best known only for its iconic “March.” Yet thanks to its playful satire and a “score [that] bubbles with invention and high spirits” (Gramophone), Three Oranges has been a European staple for almost a century. Opera Philadelphia presents “agile, fresh-voiced tenor” Jonathan Johnson (Opera News) as the melancholy prince, alongside Metropolitan Opera regular Wendy Bryn Harmer, Scott Conner, and Barry Banks, who boasts “the same combination of tonal sweetness and pinging clarity that made Pavarotti famous” (Telegraph, UK). Led by Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris, the production marks both the 20th anniversary of the conductor’s house debut, and also the 100th anniversary of the opera itself. Click here to see the video trailer for The Love for Three Oranges.
Next, in partnership with FringeArts as part of Philadelphia’s 2019 Fringe Festival, Opera Philadelphia presents the world premiere production of Let Me Die (Sep 21–28) by Joseph Keckler, a “gifted composer, poet and musician … who refuses to be pigeonholed” (Opera News). Interspersing famous operatic death scenes with original video and Keckler’s own signature brand of comedic storytelling, his genre-bending new performance piece also draws on the talents of dramaturg and director Elizabeth Gimbel, praised for her “poetic direction” (Village Voice) of his previous works; soprano Veronica Chapman-Smith, as seen in O17’s The Wake World and O18’s Sky on Swings; FringeNYC Award-winning video designer Lianne Arnold; and others.
Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O19 Celebration (Sep 21) honors Maestro Rovaris on his 20th anniversary with the company. After a recital performance by soprano Brenda Rae, who drew raves in the title role of O18’s celebrated new take on Lucia di Lammermoor, patrons will enjoy a seated dinner on the Academy of Music stage, surrounded by the exquisite set of The Love for Three Oranges, which is complete with oranges designed to look like giant Fabergé eggs and an elaborate, trompe l’oeil proscenium arch.
Building on the success of Festival O18’s “Fridays at Field” recital series, Curtis in Concert (Sep 21–29) once again presents emergent singers from Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in recital at the historic and intimate Field Concert Hall. Hailed as “a delightful afternoon” (Parterre), the series has been expanded for O19, with separate Saturday and Sunday recitals repeated over each weekend of the festival. Featured artists include tenor Martin Luther Clark, whose “exceptionally lovely voice” and “fine stage presence” prompted Parterre to declare: “If I were betting on a star of tomorrow, Clark would be high on my list”; Brazilian-American soprano Sophia Hunt, as seen in Opera Philadelphia’s co-presentation of Rene Orth’s Empty the House; Philadelphia native Karen Slack, a soprano blessed with a “warm and rich voice” (Opera News); and Rachel Sterrenberg, whose “rich, iridescent soprano” (Financial Times) graced leading roles in the company’s recent staging of The Magic Flute and world premiere production of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.
Opera Philadelphia’s recent revival of Puccini’s perennially popular La bohème in Davide Livermore’s “visually inventive and colorful” (Opera News) staging was heralded as “a true homage to the classic” (Broadway World). Accompanied by projections of Impressionist art from the Barnes Foundation and Philadelphia Museum of Art, the production boasted leading performances from Vanessa Vasquez, Ashley Marie Robillard, Evan LeRoy Johnson, and Troy Cook, “one of the strongest quartets ever heard in this piece” (Broad Street Review), under the leadership of Maestro Rovaris, who “intelligently maintain[ed] the pace of Puccini’s not-a-note-wasted score” (Philadelphia Inquirer). Now, by way of an upbeat to Festival O19, Opera Philadelphia invites the entire local community to a free outdoor HD screening of the opera at the company’s ninth annual “Opera on the Mall” event (Sep 14) at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park. To date, the series has brought opera to more than 30,000 fans and newcomers, with more than 4,000 Philadelphians attending last year’s cinecast of We Shall Not Be Moved.
Finally, festival attendees can savor a range of “Late Night Snacks,” presented at Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival with Fringe Arts and the Bearded Ladies, “an always daringly incendiary brand of queer cabaret” (Philly Weekly). Bearded Ladies founder and artistic director John Jarboe is among those hosting this series of informal, inclusive pop-up cabaret nights on Philadelphia’s South Percy Street, where performers include operatic luminaries Anthony Roth Costanzo (Sep 20), who returns to the company after his star turn in O18’s Glass Handel, and Stephanie Blythe, appearing as her alter ego, Blythely Oratonio (Sep 14 & 15), as well as Joseph Keckler of Let Me Die (Sep 12), Ashley Marie Robillard of La bohème (Sep 20), Will Liverman of both La bohème and The Love for Three Oranges (Sep 25), and other members of the Three Oranges cast, appearing together as “Rotten Fruit” (Sep 24).