Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st Century.
The Opera creates outstanding productions of both classic and new operatic works that resonate within the community, assembles the finest international creative artists, and presents a wide array of programming that educates, deepens, and diversifies the opera audience in Philadelphia and beyond. Performance offerings include large-scale works at the historic Academy of Music, intimate chamber operas as part of the Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater, and frequent community performances which focus on creative partnerships and enhanced accessibility. Under the leadership of General Director David B. Devan, the company has launched the American Repertoire Program, a commitment to produce a new American work in each of ten seasons, and the nation’s first collaborative Composer In Residence Program with New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group.
Opera Philadelphia Mission & History
Since 1975, Opera Philadelphia has been committed to delivering outstanding productions of traditional repertoire, often in new and innovative ways. While lush, opulent productions of blockbuster titles such as Carmen, Tosca, La Traviata, and Otello often fill the stage of the Academy, the company is also known for its new productions, such as renowned visual artist Jun Kaneko’s two stunning productions of Fidelio and Madama Butterfly, a vibrant doublebill of L’enfant et les sortilèges and Gianni Schicchi, and the Company premiere of Gluck’s Orphée & Eurydice, all of which employed the latest in vibrant computer animations and projected images.
The Opera is also dedicated to presenting new operatic works, including East Coast and American premieres. In June 2010, the company presented the U.S. Premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s arresting opera Phaedra in an exciting new production from director Robert Driver. A unanimous critical success, the opera garnered national attention with The New York Times declaring “… the Opera Company of Philadelphia has scored a substantial artistic coup with the American premiere of Phaedra” and The Philadelphia Inquirer saying “Phaedra seems to come from a force and range of expression that can’t be fettered by anything traditional…Just fasten your seat belt and take the ride.” Other notable new work productions include the co-commission and East Coast premiere of Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s ground-breaking opera, Margaret Garner; the Philadelphia Premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Grammy Award-winning Ainadamar produced by Curtis Opera Theatre; and the East Coast Premiere of Academy Award winning composer Tan Dun’s Tea: A Mirror of Soul.
Building on this success, in 2011, Opera Philadelphia announced its American Repertoire Program, a ten-year commitment to produce a contemporary American work each season. The initiative launches in June 2012 with Dark Sisters, a new opera with music by Nico Muhly and a libretto from Stephen Karam. The opera, which tells the story of a polygamist family during a period of crisis, was co-commissioned with New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group and had a critically-acclaimed November 2011 World Premiere. Other upcoming American Repertoire Program productions include East Coast Premiere of Silent Night, co-produced with The Minnesota Opera. Composer Kevin Puts won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Silent Night, which features a poignant libretto by Mark Campbell. Also in line are two co-commissions with The Santa Fe Opera: Oscar, by composer Theodore Morrison in 2015, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain in 2016, which features a libretto by Gene Scheer based on the novel by Charles Frazier which won the National Book Award.
One of the most significant additions to the scope and distinctiveness of artistic offerings has been the introduction of the Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater, which the Wall Street Journal called, “… a savvy move that has been a success with audiences.” Creating a home for innovative chamber opera in Philadelphia, the Aurora Series features two productions of cutting-edge works in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater each year, including one produced by the Curtis Opera Theatre in association with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Aurora Series titles have included The Rape of Lucretia, Wozzeck, Orphée & Eurydice, Phaedra, and The Cunning Little Vixen, among others, with Curtis Opera Theatre’s area premiere of Elegy for Young Lovers receiving praise in March 2012 when The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “One would be fortunate to encounter a production this confidently staged and performed in any of the world's great opera houses.”
Rising Talent and Internationally-Acclaimed Stars
Since the Company’s founding, Opera Philadelphia has had a strong tradition of identifying and cultivating rising young talent and casting these future stars alongside internationally acclaimed singers. The company is fortunate to have two of the country’s foremost operatic training grounds here in Philadelphia, with The Academy of Vocal Arts and The Curtis Institute of Music. Each season, the Opera engages artists from these institutions in a variety of programs, from education and outreach events, to supporting roles in mainstage productions. In 2012, Opera Philadelphia expanded its scope for identifying young talent, announcing the nation’s first comprehensive, collaborative operatic Composer In Residence program. In collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group, the Opera selected New York-based composer Lembit Beecher and Missy Mazzoli as its first Composers In Residence. The goal of the CIR program is to foster tomorrow’s American operatic masterpieces through personalized creative development and intensive, hands-on composition opportunities.
Committed to ensuring opera’s future, not only artistically, but from the perspective of audience development, Opera Philadelphia is devoted to creating educational programs which introduce the rich heritage of opera to the curriculum of public and private schools, as well as sponsoring programs that appeal to both longtime and new opera audiences. The company’s award-winning Sounds of Learning™ program, which has brought opera to more than 130,000 area students, advances interdisciplinary learning by integrating opera into the core school curriculum. Opera Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary’s collaborative program, Hip H’opera, was launched in 2006 and works to build the self-esteem of at-risk youth by bridging the gap between classical music and pop culture.
In recognition of opera’s ever-changing adult audiences, the Opera also continues to expand outreach and enrichment programs, including the Taste of Opera lecture series, Opera Overtures pre-performance lectures, downloadable podcasts, among others. In 2010, Opera Philadelphia’s popular Knight Foundation-funded “Random Acts of Culture” went viral and made headlines nationwide. The company’s rendition of the “Hallelujah” Chorus featuring over 650 area choristers at Macy’s accompanied by the famed Wanamaker Organ has garnered over 7.5 million views on YouTube and major national press attention, as have other Random Acts around the city.
With nearly 40 years of a strong operatic tradition in its past, Opera Philadelphia looks to a future that continues to bring audiences the best and the brightest in programming, production quality, artistry, and outreach in new and innovative ways; envisioning a community where opera is a key source of civic pride that actively contributes to the quality of life and inspires community engagement.
Opera Philadelphia is a member of OPERA America.