Opera Philadelphia

Published16 Feb 2016

Opera Philadelphia’s 2016-2017 Season Juxtaposes World Premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves with Puccini’s Turandot and American Premiere Tour of Third World Bunfight’s Radical Take on Verdi’s Macbeth

Opera Philadelphia’s 2016-2017 Season serves notice that the company is, as the Washington Post reports, “the very model of a modern opera company.” As General Director & President David B. Devan and Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris announced today, the 2016-2017 Season takes a bold first step towards the company’s new “binge-watching” format, packing three productions into an 11-day period in fall 2016 while offering two additional operas in spring 2017. Devan describes the slate as an “exciting warm up” to fall 2017, when the company will begin launching each annual season with a 12-day festival featuring seven operatic happenings across multiple venues.

Highlighting the fall season is the World Premiere of the chamber opera Breaking the Waves by composer Missy Mazzoli, a graduate of Opera Philadelphia’s Composer in Residence program, and librettist Royce Vavrek, who based it on the Oscar-nominated 1996 film by Lars von Trier. Presented in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts from September 22-October 1, 2016, the opera stars soprano Kiera Duffy as the troubled Bess McNeill and baritone John Moore as her lover and eventual husband, Jan Nyman. During that same period, audiences can also enjoy Christine Goerke in the title role of a lavish production of Puccini’s Turandot at the Academy of Music, complete with an Opening Night Gala and a free Opera on the Mall HD broadcast, alongside the American Premiere Tour of an African-set Macbeth from South Africa’s most provocative director, Brett Bailey,and his innovative theater company, Third World Bunfight, co-presented with FringeArts at the Prince Theater as part of the Curated 2016 Fringe Festival.

Breaking the Waves
Kiera Duffy is Bess McNeill in BREAKING THE WAVES Credit: Dominic M. Mercier

Spring brings star mezzo Stephanie Blythe’s highly anticipated first appearances in the title role of Rossini’s Tancredi (February 2017), which also featues the company debut of soprano Brenda Rae as Amenaide in the American premiere of Emilio Sagi’s original staging of the opera. An impressive cast draws the season to a comedic close in a new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (April–May 2017) at the Academy of Music. Rovaris, who leads “with supple moments of personal expressiveness” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)will conduct all three of the season’s Academy of Music productions: TurandotTancredi, and The Marriage of Figaro.

“Opera Philadelphia is thrilled to offer audiences a season that pairs master composers like Mozart, Puccini, and Rossini with a cutting-edge contemporary composer like Missy Mazzoli,” explained General Director Devan. “We are excited to provide star singers like Christine Goerke and Stephanie Blythe with the opportunity to explore fresh takes on Puccini’s Turandot and Rossini’s Tancredi, and to welcome incredible talents like Brenda Rae, Marco Berti, Joyce El-Khoury, John Chest, and Layla Claire to make their Opera Philadelphia debuts in the 2016-2017 Season. I invite opera lovers from all over the globe to join us as these incredible artists explore some of their most inspired work on our stages.”

Breaking the Waves

Music by Missy Mazzoli | Libretto by Royce Vavrek


CO-COMMISSIONED with Beth Morrison Projects

September 22, 24M, 27, 29, October 1M, 2016

The Perelman Theater

Performed in English with English Supertitles

This production includes explicit language and sexual content

This World Premiere chamber opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek is based on the Oscar-nominated 1996 film by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, the opera tells the story of a religious young woman, Bess McNeill, and of her love for her husband Jan, a handsome oil rig worker. When Jan becomes paralyzed in an off-shore oil rig accident, Bess’s marital vows are put to the test when he encourages her to seek other lovers and return to his bedside to tell him of her sexual activities. He insists that sharing these stories will feel like making love together and that their love for each other will keep him alive. Bess’s increasing selflessness leads to a finale of divine grace, but at great cost.

Recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” by The New York Times, and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” by Time Out New York, Missy Mazzoli is a fast-rising composer on the contemporary music scene. Together with librettist Royce Vavrek, she has succeeded in creating a visceral chamber opera based on von Trier’s “fierce, wrenchingly passionate film” (The New York Times).

“I have never had a story sing to me like Bess McNeill’s in Breaking the Waves,” said Mazzoli. “Immediately upon seeing this film I felt that Bess’s crushing vulnerability, steadfast faith and shocking bravery could manifest in a refreshing and provocative new character on the operatic stage. I imagine music that illuminates the complexity von Trier brings to his characters – a chorus of men sing a hymn that is beautiful but chilling in its austerity; Jan sings to Bess of his desires in a way that is at once tender and calculating; Bess sings a delicate melody with a turbulent and distorted accompaniment that hints at her inner rages and longings. In creating music for Bess McNeill and her world I see an opportunity to create a new kind of heroine, and a new kind of opera that presents complex characters in an intricate and unblinking light.”

“Bess’s journey is operatic: from her unbridled commitment to Jan, to his absences that lead to her desperation, to her unquestioning willingness to put herself in harm’s way believing that her sexual sacrifices will save his life,” said Vavrek. “Her story sings, and with Missy I believe that we can translate her singular narrative into an important, intoxicating work of contemporary opera.”

Dazzling soprano Kiera Duffy, who sings with “penetrating insight and luminosity” (The New York Times), creates the role of the troubled Bess, with John Moore’s “burnished-bronze” (Opera News) baritone an ideal fit for the role of her great love, Jan. Mezzo Eve Gigliotti brings her “strong” and “impassioned” (The Washington Post) stage presence as Bess’s sister, Dodo, with tenor David Portillo’s “luxuriant warm glow that seduced the ear” (Opera News) as the sympathetic Dr. Richardson.

James Darrah, described as “an artist who refuses to be limited by the conventional ‘oil and water separation’ of disciplines” (Musical America) helms the World Premiere production, with Steven Osgood conducting the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.


Music by Giacomo Puccini | Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni

Co-production with Minnesota Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera, and Seattle Opera

September 23, 25M, 28, 30, October 2M, 2016

Academy of Music

Performed in Italian with English Supertitles

In ancient China, Princess Turandot is an enigmatic beauty who reigns with an iron fist and an ice-cold heart. To her would-be suitors, she has issued a decree: he who can answer her riddles will win her hand—-all others will suffer punishment by death. When a mysterious man passes her test, will she finally open her heart to love?

Puccini’s final work is one of his grandest, featuring exotic locales, forbidden romance, and gorgeous melodies, including the rousing anthem “Nessun dorma.” This kaleidoscopic co-production, called “miraculous” by Opera News, features stunning sets, costumes, and choreography.

Hailed as “a multi-hued miracle of gale-force power” (The Wall Street Journal), Christine Goerke brings her “rich and full sound” (The New York Times) to the title role of Princess Turandot, with superb Italian tenor Marco Berti making his Opera Philadelphia debut as her would-be love, Prince Calaf. Joyce El-Khoury brings the “genuine radiance” (Opera News) of her soprano to the role of Liù, the slave girl whose love for Calaf is unrequited. Renaud Doucet directs the colorful production, with Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris conducting the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.

This production of Turandot is highlighted by a black-tie Opening Night Gala on Friday, September 23 and a FREE, HD broadcast in Independence National Historical Park that will mark the company’s sixth annual Opera on the Mall on Saturday, October 1.


Music by Fabrizio Cassol after Giuseppe Verdi | Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play by William Shakespeare

AMERICAN PREMIERE TOUR | Part of the Curated 2016 Fringe Festival

Production from Third World Bunfight

Co-presented by Opera Philadelphia and FringeArts

September 24 & 25, 2016

Prince Theater

Performed in Italian with English Supertitles


This radical take on Verdi’s Macbeth sets Shakespeare’s story of greed, tyranny and remorse in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, amongst the wars and ruthless exploitation that tear that invisible corner of the world apart. The ongoing conflict is fueled by multinational corporations and corrupt regional governments and generals, greedy for the natural resources that swell their pockets. As in so many parts of the developing world, there is scant regard for the bloodshed and despair at the bottom of the supply chain.

Within a milieu of multinational double-dealings, ethnic conflict, ruthless militia, ‘blood minerals’ and glittering Chinese imports, a Congolese warlord, General Macbeth, and his ambitious wife murder the king and unleash atrocities on the crumbling province that they seize. The Telegraph (UK) declared, “There can be no denying the power and originality of this astonishing appropriation of Verdi’s Macbeth.”

Verdi’s score has been rewritten and adapted for 12 onstage musicians by Belgian composer Fabrizio Cassol. The work is performed by a tight ensemble of 10 South African opera singers and members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Serbian conductor Premil Petrovic.

“We hope that this is a big step toward an ongoing relationship between our two institutions,” said FringeArts President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio of the co-presentation with Opera Philadelphia. “At FringeArts we envision September as the timeframe for people to take risks, be experimental, think progressively. Opera is an iconic, typically classical art form that has a rich history of risk-taking. This co-presentation of Brett Bailey – one of the world's most daring, provocative artists – is emblematic of the risk that both of our organizations values so highly.”


Music by Gioachino Rossini | Libretto by Gaetano Rossi

American premiere of production from Opéra de Lausanne

February 10, 12M, 15, 17, 19M, 2017

Academy of Music

Performed in Italian with English Supertitles

Stephanie Blythe, a renowned mezzo-soprano heralded as "a once-in-a-generation opera singer" (The New York Times), makes her highly-anticipated role debut as Tancredi in this medieval story of chivalry and tragic love, transported to the elegant atmosphere of Europe at the end of World War I. The beautiful and inspirational music of a young Rossini provides the soundtrack for the love story of the exiled warrior Tancredi and the beautiful Amenaide, daughter of the powerful Argirio. When Amenaide is sentenced to death for treason she did not commit, a disguised Tancredi fights to defend both his love and home.

Soprano Brenda Rae brings her “knockout coloratura skills” and “luminous nobility” (Opera News) to the role of Amenaide. Heralded by the Dallas Morning News as an artist who "displays a voice of silken loveliness as well as graceful agility," tenor Michele Angelinimakes his company debut as Argirio.

Emilio Sagi directs the American premiere production, which bowed in March 2015 at Opéra de Lausanne. One of Rossini's most lyrical works will delight audiences in the hands of Music Director Corrado Rovaris.

The Marriage of Figaro

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

A new co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City

April 28, 30M, May 3, 5, 7M, 2017

Academy of Music

Performed in Italian with English Supertitles

Regarded as one of the greatest operas ever written, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is a screwball comedy complete with disguises, surprises, and compromises. Figaro, a wily barber and part-time matchmaker, has finally fallen in love. But, like everything else in his life, it's complicated. On the eve of Figaro’s marriage to Susanna, his master, Count Almaviva, sets his wandering eye on the lovely bride-to-be. Servant and master go head to head, and even the Countess Rosina gets in on the action when she learns of her husband’s desires. Or is she embroiled in a dangerous liaison of her own? From the opening notes of the overture to the touching final curtain, Mozart’s brilliant score delivers a love story mixed with farce and satire.

A cadre of impressive voices will make this a Figaro to remember. John Chest brings “the dark, rich colours” (Opera Now) of his baritone to the role of the Count, with Layla Claire’s “luminous soprano” (The New York Times) as the Countess. Ying Fang adds her “coquettish flair” (The New York Times) as Susanna, with Brandon Cedel’s “ample, agile bass-baritone” (The New Yorker) in the role of Figaro, and Cecelia Hall, a mezzo “on the brink of stardom” (Chicago Classical Review) as the flirtatious page, Cherubino. Patrick Carfizzi, whose “impressive bass is as powerful as it is handsome” (Opera Today) is Bartolo. Stephen Lawless directs, with Corrado Rovaris leading the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra. 


Turandot, Tancredi, and The Marriage of Figaro are performed at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Performance times are Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.

Breaking the Waves is performed at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Broad and Spruce Streets. Performance times are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2:30 p.m.

Macbeth is performed at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street. Performance times are Saturday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

Full season subscriptions are available beginning Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at noon at operaphila.org, or by calling 215-732-8400 (Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).  Single tickets will go on sale in August 2016 at operaphila.org or 215-893-1018.


Opera Philadelphia is supported by major grants from Wyncote Foundation, The William Penn Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. Hyatt at the Bellevue is the official hotel of Opera Philadelphia. Burdumy Motors Incorporated is the official automotive dealership of Opera Philadelphia.  Opera Philadelphia receives arts funding support through grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and The Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Chat with Guest Services