Opera Philadelphia

Published28 Apr 2020

Opera Philadelphia to Stream a Digital Festival of Five Productions, Including Four Recent World Premieres

2020 International Opera Award nominee Denis & Katya by Philip Venables and Ted Huffman to premiere online on Friday, May 1

Video premieres include Best New Opera Award winner Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, International Opera Award nominee Sky on Swings by Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moscovitch, plus a beloved 2014 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville

We Shall Not Be Moved by Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph to stream online and broadcast on WHYY-TV 12 on Sunday, May 10, to mark 35th anniversary of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia

Digital Festival O
Digital Festival O

Over the past five years, Opera Philadelphia has presented no fewer than nine world premieres, scoring multiple awards and winning international audience and critical recognition as “a hotbed of operatic innovation” (New York Times) that represents “one of North America’s premiere generators of valid new operas” (Opera News). Now that the 2019-20 season has been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company – “the HBO of the opera world” (San Francisco Classical Voice) – is extending its season online with video streams of five recent productions, including four new works that received their world premieres from 2015-2019. Starring bass Kevin Burdette, soprano Kiera Duffy, baritone Theo Hoffman, countertenor John Holiday, mezzo Frederica von Stade, and many more of today’s leading singers, the five productions are anchored by members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus. The festival comes at an urgent time of fundraising for the company, which must raise $4 million by May 31 in order to move forward with plans for the 2020-2021 season.

Opera Philadelphia’s Digital Festival O is generously funded, in part, by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation.

“The unprecedented social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized the performing arts community, sparking generous artist relief funds and online expressions of creativity as we all navigate this challenging time in our history, and look forward to once again gathering together for the shared experience of music and art,” says David B. Devan, General Director & President of Opera Philadelphia. “Digital Festival O, which premieres when we had been scheduled to gather at the Academy of Music for a live production of Madame Butterfly, celebrates the joy so many singers, musicians, composers, librettists, conductors, directors, and designers have brought into our lives through these new operas and productions, giving us an opportunity to share in the power of music and theater while reminding us that we will all gather together again in the future. It is our hope to see everyone in September at Festival O20, but until that time Festival O stands for Online.”

The five operas will receive digital premieres from May 1 through May 29 on YouTube and operaphila.org and will feature special opening night content such as pre-show interviews with artists that reveal the nuances involved in bringing new work and new productions to the stage. Following each digital premiere, the operas will remain available on-demand for varying lengths of time through Aug. 31, 2020. On Sunday, May 10, at 2:00 p.m. WHYY-TV12 will present a special broadcast of We Shall Not Be Moved for audiences throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. This acclaimed opera will also be broadcast for students on WHYY’s secondary channel Y2 on Friday, May 15, at 1:00 p.m.

Denis & Katya
Music by Philip Venables | Libretto by Ted Huffman
World Premiere: September 2019 as part of Festival O19
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 1, at 8:00 p.m. 
Streaming in North America only through Friday, May 8, at 7:00 p.m.

Opera Philadelphia scored a hit at its third fall festival, O19, with the world premiere of Denis & Katya. A timely and immersive multimedia chamber opera by composer Philip Venables and librettist-director Ted Huffman, the new work was inspired by the true story of 15-year-old runaways Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who became social media sensations when they livestreamed the armed stand-off with Russian Special Forces that culminated in their own deaths. “What is remarkable about Denis & Katya is how it explores the psychological roots of our fixation on such sad and gruesome cases,” wrote New Yorker critic Alex Ross. The world premiere production featured a double cast, all of whose members took on multiple roles; as in the upcoming live stream, the first cast paired American baritone Theo Hoffman with German-American mezzo-soprano Siena Licht Miller.

Commissioned and produced in collaboration with Music Theatre Wales and France’s Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, Denis & Katya proved a resounding critical success at its Opera Philadelphia premiere. The New York Times heralded the opera as an intimate, haunting triumph,” and Musical America called it “the most brilliantly original operatic work I’ve seen in a decade.” Included in the New York Times’s “Best Classical Music of 2019,” the opera was recognized with the 2019 FEDORA-GENERALI Prize for Opera and a nomination for “Best World Premiere” at the 2020 International Opera Awards.

We Shall Not Be Moved
Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain | Libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph
World Premiere: September 2017 as part of Festival O17
Broadcast on WHYY-TV12 on Sunday, May 10, at 2:00 p.m. (WHYY is available on Comcast 812 and FiOs 512)
Broadcast for high-school students on Y2 on Friday, May 15 at 1:00 p.m. (Y2 is available on 12.2, Comcast 257, Verizon Fios 474)
Premiering on YouTube and at operaphila.org on Sunday, May 10, at 7:00 p.m.
Streaming on-demand through Monday, August 31

Nearly three years after its sold-out world premiere at Festival O17, We Shall Not Be Moved returns in a special telecast presented in collaboration with WHYY-TV12. Drawing on the collective talents of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, Haitian-American librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and peerless director, choreographer and dramaturge Bill T. Jones, the opera tells the story of five North Philadelphia teen runaways and their confrontation with the local police, in a timely exploration of national identity, race, gender, personal responsibility, and the limits of the public education system. Conducted by Viswa Subbaraman and starring spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead, soprano Kirstin Chávez, countertenor John Holiday, tenor Daniel Shirley, baritone Adam Richardson and bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock, its world premiere production was named one of the “Best Classical Music Performances of 2017”(New York Times). Rising from the enduring ashes of the Philadelphia police’s May 13, 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound in West Philadelphia, where the opera is set, the broadcast marks the 35th anniversary of the tragic event.

A hit with audiences and critics alike, We Shall Not Be Moved was hailed as a “highly polished piece of theater” (Philadelphia Inquirer) that “succeeds on the level of art and not just polemic” (Opera News). After making successful New York and European debuts at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and Amsterdam’s Opera Forward Festival, where it was presented by Dutch National Opera,the opera returned to Philadelphia in 2018 for a free outdoor Opera on the Mall screening for an audience of nearly 4,000.

The Barber of Seville
Music by Gioachino Rossini | Libretto by Cesare Sterbini
Production Premiere: September 2014
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 15, at 8:00 p.m.
Streaming on-demand through Monday, June 29

Created in collaboration with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Philadelphia’s new co-production of Rossini’s rapid-fire romp was a hit at the Academy of Music when it launched the company’s 40th anniversary season, before drawing nearly 5,000 people to Independence Mall for a free HD broadcast. With its colorful sets and costumes, director Michael Shell’s production recalls the comic films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, prompting the Philadelphia Inquirer to call it “one big lollipop for the eyes, … with Rossini’s music sounding fit and lively amid a cast of first-rate singers.”

This stellar cast features baritone Jonathan Beyer as Figaro, mezzo Jennifer Holloway as Rosina, tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva, bass Kevin Burdette as Dr. Bartolo, soprano Katrina Thurman as Berta, and bass-baritone Wayne Tigges as a scene-stealing Don Basilio, all under the baton of Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris.

Sky on Swings
Music by Lembit Beecher | Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch | Directed by Joanna Settle
World Premiere: September 2018 as part of Festival O18
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 22, at 8:00 p.m.
Streaming on-demand through Monday, August 31

O18, the second edition of Opera Philadelphia’s annual season-opening festival, launched on the eve of World Alzheimer’s Day with the world premiere of the chamber opera Sky on Swings. An unflinching yet uplifting exploration of Alzheimer’s disease from the company’s inaugural Composer in Residence Lembit Beecher and his longtime collaborator, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, the opera earned a nomination for “Best World Premiere” at the 2019 International Opera Awards. “This was opera as real life,” wrote Heidi Waleson, opera critic for the Wall Street Journal.

Opera News called Sky on Swings a “poignant” work, built around the talents of “two justly revered mezzo-sopranos, Marietta Simpson (Martha) and Frederica von Stade (Danny).” Tenor Daniel Taylor brings “warmth and ringing sound” (Opera News) as Danny’s son Ira, with the “excellent soprano” (Bachtrack) Sharleen Joynt as Martha’s daughter, Winnie. Director Joanna Settle led a production the Philadelphia Inquirer found “theatrically true and artistically distinguished,” with conductor Geoffrey McDonald leading the cast and orchestra through performances that add up to “a monumental achievement for Opera Philadelphia” (Parterre).

Breaking the Waves
Music by Missy Mazzoli | Libretto by Royce Vavrek
World Premiere: September 2016
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 29, at 8:00 p.m.
Streaming on-demand through Monday, August 31

An Opera Philadelphia commission from Opera Philadelphia Composer in Residence Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek and director James Darrah, it was Breaking the Waves that launched the company’s fall 2016-2017 season. Adapted from Lars von Trier’s searing Oscar-nominated film, the opera depicts a tragedy of conflicting ethical imperatives that serves as a meditation on the nature of goodness.

Starring soprano Kiera Duffy as Bess and baritone John Moore as Jan,under the baton of Steven Osgood, the premiere proved a sensation. The Wall Street Journal called Breaking the Wavessavage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original,” and Opera News counted it “among the best 21st-century American operas yet produced.” After traveling to New York’s Prototype Festival, the opera was recognized with the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA)’s inaugural Best New Opera Award. The production is scheduled to receive its west coast premiere in February 2021 with LA Opera.

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia, the only American finalist for both the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company and the 2020 International Opera Award for Best Festival, is “the very model of a modern opera company” (Washington Post). Committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century, the company is “one of American opera’s success stories” (New York Times). For more information, visit operaphila.org.

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