Opera Philadelphia

Published29 Sep 2017

Following Triumph at Opera Philadelphia’s O17 Festival, We Shall Not Be Moved Receives NY Premiere at Harlem’s Apollo Theater (Oct 6 & 7)

O17, the inaugural edition of Opera Philadelphia’s game-changing new annual season-opening festival, launched like a rocket earlier this month, trailing a blaze of critical and popular acclaim. Next Friday, one of the three new operas that received its world premiere at the festival – We Shall Not Be Moved, a “deeply moving” work (Washington Post) that “succeeds on the level of art and not just polemic” (Opera News) – is set to make its New York premiere at Harlem’s Apollo Theater (Oct 6 & 7).

Scene from We Shall Not Be Moved at O17 Credit: Dave DiRentis

A powerfully poetic interdisciplinary new chamber opera that draws on the collective talents of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, Haitian-American spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and peerless director, choreographer, and dramaturge Bill T. Jones, We Shall Not Be Moveddepicts five North Philadelphia teens on the run: a 15-year-old African-American girl and her self-selected “family” of four brothers – a black-identified white boy and three African-Americans, one of whom is transgender. Their confrontation with a local police officer – herself a woman of color – raises timely questions of national identity, gender identity, the insidious nature of racism, police presence in minority neighborhoods, the violence that sometimes ensues, and the way some are failed by the education system. Combining spoken word, contemporary dance, video projection, and classical, R&B and jazz singing with a brooding, often joyful score, the work hinges ultimately on the notion of personal responsibility. In New York, as in Philadelphia, We Shall Not Be Moved stars spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead as 15-year-old Un/Sung, with countertenor John Holiday, bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock, tenor Daniel Shirley, and baritone Adam Richardson as her four self-appointed “brothers,” and soprano Kirstin Chávez as police officer Glenda, under the baton of Viswa Subbaraman.

What critics are saying about We Shall Not Be Moved:

“A trenchant, keenly judged collaboration … Jones’s insightful work with the actors shaped a tight, intelligent narrative. … Roumain and Joseph’s opera succeeds on the level of art and not just polemic.”

                – Opera News

“[In] this raw, engrossing work, … Mr. Roumain skillfully folds gospel, funk, jazz and contemporary classical idioms into the score. … An anguished requiem.”

                – New York Times

“Roumain’s music is beautiful, … the material was searing, the performances were incredibly strong, … and Bill T. Jones’s choreography kept the staging fluid and animated. It was deeply moving.”

                – Washington Post

“Joseph’s intelligent libretto blends traditional aria, spoken-word performance, poetry, and rap into a seamless garment of storytelling.  … We Shall Not Be Moved is a smart and deeply affecting work that puts Philadelphia’s past in dialogue with its present. It shows that opera still has much to teach us about our world.”

                Broad Street Review

“’One minute I was on the verge of tears,’ said 17-year-old Melissa Fequiere, who was part of a Northeast High School contingent. ‘Next minute I was on the edge of my seat.’”

                 – Philadelphia Inquirer

“Poignant, genre-bending. … Politics are present. But most important, the convolutions and repetitions of the poetry powerfully evoke the confusion and despair of the teens. … Viswa Subbaraman ably conducted the visceral, propulsive score.”

                Wall Street Journal

What critics are saying about O17:

“The company is striking a huge blow for the idea that arts organizations do better to add new, exciting things than to tread with financial caution. The festival is one of the most enjoyable additions to the fall calendar in years; it’s attracting opera fans from all over; and … I’m happy to report that Philadelphia is doing it absolutely right. … It’s put together a festival that reflects its city. … This is what happens with a strong vision and good, thoughtful planning. … It may become a key part of the season for everyone.”

                – Washington Post

“With an organization like Opera Philadelphia, which is trying to focus on new, adventurous work, this may well be the way to go. Companies across America are paying attention to see how it turns out. The artistic results, at least, were impressive. … It may be a risk, but it’s one well worth taking.”

                – New York Times

“Opera Philadelphia has tackled the industrywide problem of declining audiences with a dramatic reboot.”

                – Wall Street Journal

“The current sprit of Opera Philadelphia is not to follow taste but to lead it. That spirit is backed by Opera Philadelphia’s in-house staff, one that shows every sign of working resourcefully with young composers in residence, workshopping what they do, and assembling the right team to do it.”

               – Philadelphia Inquirer

What critics are saying about the productions of O17:

The Wake World by David Hertzberg (world premiere)

 “An early 20th-century aura, with the sheen and muscle of Strauss wedded to the diaphanous spirit of Debussy, but with a distinctly modern edge. … This composer is a find.”

                Wall Street Journal

Elizabeth Cree by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell (world premiere)

“Gruesome yet oddly entertaining. … Mr. Puts’s music blithely segues from Felliniesque evocations of British music hall skits to Gothic horror melodrama.”

                – New York Times

War Stories (Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda by Monteverdi and I Have No Stories to Tell You [Philadelphia premiere] by Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moscovitch)

“The staging captured the fighting/embracing duality of the show.”

                Wall Street Journal

The Magic Flute (exclusive East Coast presentation of Barrie Kosky production)

“The festival’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute … could shake up the field as much as the challenging new works. The lesson here for other companies? If you’re going to go with projections, go all the way.”

                – New York Times

Festival Artist Sondra Radvanovsky in recital

“Eloquent. … The recital acknowledged opera’s history, but like the rest of the festival, it also looked courageously into the future.”

                Wall Street Journal

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