Opera Philadelphia

Published18 May 2021

Opera Philadelphia's 2021-2022 season features an integrated lineup of live, in-person performances and streaming programs

New film adaptations of Poulenc’s La voix humaine starring Patricia Racette and Henze’s El Cimarron starring Sir Willard White presented alongside an Academy of Music production of Verdi’s Rigoletto and a Verizon Hall concert pairing Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with George Walker’s Lilacs

Pre-season outdoor concert pits tenors Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres in a friendly rivalry backed by the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Corrado Rovaris

Additional digital offerings include a fresh look at Glass Handel starring Anthony Roth Costanzo, a program celebrating Philadelphia’s historic pipe organs, and new works commissioned from today’s top composers

Building on the success of an acclaimed year of artistic creation, described by the New York Times as “laying claim to the mantle of making new material during the pandemic” and “one of the best bets going, worldwide,” Opera Philadelphia has announced plans for an untraditional 2021-2022 season that will bring performances to audiences in a variety of venues ─ indoors, outdoors, and from the comfort of home. Three live performances from three different stages in Philadelphia will be paired with a second season of works conceived and created for streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, continuing the company’s “ongoing effort to bring a wider range of voices into the repertory” (National Public Radio).

Eliminating the traditional time constraints of what constitutes “opera season,” the Opera Philadelphia Channel will continue to stream original films, archival performances, and new programming year-round, with annual streaming passes available for $99 per year or $9.99 per month. Acclaimed films of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs and Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, and world premiere commissions like Sorey’s Save the Boys, Angélica Negrón’s The Island We Made, and Caroline Shaw’s We Need to Talk, will continue to be available on-demand alongside a new series of digital commissions from three composers to be named this summer. They will be joined by new films of Francis Poulenc’s La voix humaine, starring soprano Patricia Racette and directed by James Darrah, filmed at the historic Elkins Estate in suburban Philadelphia; and Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimarrón, starring bass-baritone Sir Willard White, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges and Jorge Cousineau with music director Stephanie Rhodes Russell. A concert film and documentary bring audiences a fresh perspective on Glass Handel, 2018’s art world mega-happening created by American countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in collaboration with producer Cath Brittan and avant-garde fashion/art company Visionaire. Additional programming includes the digital premiere of The Drama of Tosca (June 17, 2021) starring soprano Ana María Martínez, tenor Brian Jagde, and baritone Quinn Kelsey; Organ Stops (July 2021), a performance piece celebrating the many historic pipe organs in Philadelphia starring the Opera Philadelphia Chorus; and the Reflection & Re-Vision series, which continues to look deeper into the opera genre by exploring its musical and theatrical elements as well as cultural, social, and historical perspectives. New programming will be announced throughout the year.

While the channel remains an ongoing, active digital stage, Opera Philadelphia will also bring live performances to audiences at three celebrated Philadelphia music venues: the outdoor Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park; Verizon Hall inside the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts; and the historic Academy of Music, Opera Philadelphia’s longtime home for grand opera productions. The three very different live performances produced in these contrasting venues will all be connected by the leadership of Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris and the talents of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus.

Superstar tenors Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres team up for the American premiere of Amici e Rivali, a pre-season concert of Rossini arias and vocal fireworks on Thursday, August 26, at the Mann. Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and George Walker’s Lilacs form a concert program presented on Friday, January 21 and Sunday, January 23, 2022 at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring soloists William Burden, Rehanna Thelwell, Mark S. Doss, and Tiffany Townsend, the concerts spotlight the talents of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus. The season will culminate with Opera Philadelphia’s return to the Academy of Music for the first time in more than two years with four performances of Verdi’s unforgettable tragedy Rigoletto from April 29-May 8, 2022, with baritone Anthony Clark Evans in the title role alongside British-American tenor Joshua Blue in his company and role debuts as the philandering Duke of Mantua with Baltimore-born soprano Raven McMillon, a winner in the 2021 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, in her company and role debuts as Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda.

“The 2021-2022 season is a first step towards returning to a new normal at Opera Philadelphia, as we get back to bringing audiences and artists together for live performances while also integrating cinematic work into our ongoing exploration of the future of opera,” said David B. Devan, General Director & President of Opera Philadelphia. “With music, artists, and storytelling at the center of all activity, this season offers opera lovers both near and far an opportunity to enjoy a wide range of revelatory operatic experiences that remind us both why we love this art form and how it continues to evolve in the 21st century.”

Subscriptions for this integrated season of live and streaming opera are now on sale at operaphila.org, or by calling 215.732.8400 (Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).


Amici e Rivali
Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee bring vocal fireworks to Philadelphia on Aug. 26 Credit: Larry Shervin

2021-2022 SEASON


Amici e Rivali
Pre-Season Concert
Thursday, August 26, 2021
Mann Center for the Performing Arts

In 2018 at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, two of today’s most brilliant tenors, Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, engaged in a dazzling encore duet of “Ah! Vieni nel tuo sangue” from Gioachino Rossini’s Otello, video of which went viral. The buzz led to the development of the groundbreaking Warner Classics album, Amici e Rivali, – Friends and Rivals – comprising more than a dozen arias, duets, and trios from seven of the composer’s operas, from the popular The Barber of Seville to the rarely heard Ricciardo e Zoraide. The “dueling tenors” album, conducted by Opera Philadelphia’s Corrado Rovaris, was released in 2020 to critical acclaim, with Opera News raving “Spyres is riveting” and “Brownlee is awesome in his dazzling technical ease and sheer grace.”

For the first time in the U.S., Brownlee and Spyres reunite for a live concert performance of Amici e Rivali, joined on stage by Rovaris and the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus. This one-night-only pre-season concert, held at the outdoor TD Pavilion at the Mann, will be the summer’s biggest display of vocal fireworks.

Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and George Walker’s Lilacs
January 21 & 23, 2022
Verizon Hall

It was Igor Stravinsky who launched music’s neoclassical movement, and according to no less a figure than Leonard Bernstein, Oedipus Rex was the most “awesome product” of the Russian composer’s neoclassical years. A Handelian opera-oratorio for orchestra, narrator, soloists and male chorus, its Latin libretto was translated from Jean Cocteau’s French interpretation of Sophocles’s archetypal Greek tragedy. Despite its Classical inspiration, however, there is a continuity between the dramatic grandeur of the work and Stravinsky’s later religious ones. And although Oedipus Rex is seldom performed, its drama, wit and consummate artistry does full justice to the composer’s formidable legacy.

Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus in two dramatic concert performances of Stravinsky’s masterwork on the Verizon Hall stage. Joining them as soloists are tenor William Burden, bringing his “emotional intensity” and “elegant singing” (New York Times) to the title role; bass-baritone Mark S. Doss, lending his “resonant and well-shaded baritone” (OperaWire) to the role of Créon; and mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell, whose “rich, deep and striking vocal presence” makes her “a singer to watch” (South Florida Classical Review), in her company debut as Jocasta.

Each concert opens with Lilacs by American composer George Walker (1922-2018). The 15-minute work, scored for soprano soloist and orchestra, is a setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a poignant reflection on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Premiered on February 1, 1996 in Boston, Lilacs was honored with that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music, making Walker the first Black composer to win the award. His trailblazing series of "firsts" included being the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, the first Black pianist to play a recital at New York's Town Hall, and the first Black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Soprano Tiffany Townsend, who made her company debut as Princess Ninetta in Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges in Festival O19, returns to as the soloist for Lilacs, bringing her “depth and tremendous vocal power” (Bachtrack) to the stage of Verizon Hall.

Mark Clague, who wrote the entry on Walker for the International Dictionary of Black Composers, points to elements of race and politics in Walker's compositions. “He constructs his music so that the unknowing listener should not be able to distinguish it from that of his ‘canonized’ white contemporaries,” Clague writes, citing influences from Stravinsky, Debussy and the serialist school of composers. “He frequently draws on black musical idioms, such as spirituals, blues patterns and jazz tropes. Walker’s music, however, is not a collage of modern styles, or a pastiche, but has its own distinct voice.”

Verdi’s Rigoletto
April 29, May 1, May 6 & May 8, 2022
Academy of Music

Opera Philadelphia returns to its longtime home for grand opera for the first time in more than two years with a production of Verdi’s unforgettable tragedy Rigoletto, long one of the most popular works in the operatic canon. Rigoletto is a court jester to the Duke of Mantua, a notorious sexual abuser. After the Duke harms a young woman, Rigoletto mocks the victim’s father, who then curses the jester for being so heartless. Later, the Duke rapes Rigoletto’s own daughter, Gilda, and the cruel joke falls on Rigoletto. Basing his opera off Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, Verdi composed Rigoletto as a confrontation to authority and as a means of illuminating abuse of power. The opera features several well-known arias, including Rigoletto’s passionate denouncement “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” Gilda’s dreamy “Caro nome,” and the Duke’s instantly recognizable “La donna è mobile.”

In a timely production from New Zealand Opera, director Lindy Hume offers no mercy for powerful men who abuse women and confronts newsmakers of today with her interpretation of Verdi’s classic. Hume has been frustrated by traditional opera’s tendency to celebrate misogyny through its “bad boy” characters. In beloved works such as Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Tosca, sopranos must rehearse how to fall, how to be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life.

“If opera aspires to be a future-focused art form, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society,” Hume says. “This history of telling stories about women being raped, murdered, and abused in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.”

When the stage director created the production for New Zealand Opera in 2012, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was breezing through a high-profile sex trial. Back then, Hume found inspiration in the controversial billionaire and politician for the Duke of Mantua; Hume’s production is in fact set at the “presidential palace” on election night. Now, presenting this piece for American audiences, Hume acknowledges some may find a similarity between the Duke and former President Donald Trump.

Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus and a cast featuring baritone Anthony Clark Evans, lauded for his “stentorian Verdi style” by the Chicago Tribune and as “warm-toned, vivacious and humane” by the San Francisco Chronicle, in the title role of the Duke’s jester Rigoletto. British-American tenor Joshua Blue makes his company and role debuts as the philandering Duke of Mantua with Baltimore-born soprano Raven McMillon, a winner in the 2021 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, in her company and role debuts as Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda.

Maestro Corrado Rovaris and the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra Credit: Dominic M. Mercier


The Drama of Tosca
Premieres June 17, 2021
Opera Philadelphia Channel

In a special concert adaptation performed and filmed this month at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, the tragic tale of Tosca takes on a completely new dimension. Seen through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, this innovative version of Puccini’s beloved work bridges opera and storytelling, highlighting major themes from the original. The Drama of Tosca stars Grammy-winning Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez in her company and title role debuts as Puccini’s troubled heroine, opposite American tenor Brian Jagde, who makes his company debut as Tosca’s doomed lover, the painter Cavaradossi, and baritone Quinn Kelsey in his company and role debuts as the treacherous Baron Scarpia. Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra with Elizabeth Braden leading the Opera Philadelphia Chorus in this special 90-minute concert.

Organ Stops
Premieres July 2021
Opera Philadelphia Channel

For many years, the Opera Philadelphia Chorus has participated in Organ Day, an annual event sponsored by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists in celebration of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall.  With that program cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Opera Philadelphia’s choristers developed a new program to celebrate the city’s many historic pipe organs. Organ Stops brings traditional and new music to three venues in the city: Manayunk’s St. John the Baptist Church, Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church in Cobbs Creek, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown.  The program pairs traditional opera choruses from Verdi’s Macbeth and Wagner’s Tannhäuser with several newer works composed specifically for chorus and organ by contemporary composers Hannah Kendall, Melissa Dunphy, Marcus DeLoach, and David Hurd.  Performances will be interspersed with interviews telling the stories of each of the three pipe organs, each neighborhood church, and the importance of making beautiful music in these sacred spaces.

“These composers span different centuries, different cultures, different genders, and different world views, and these differences inform everything from their compositional style to the texts they chose to set,” said Opera Philadelphia Chorus Master Elizabeth Braden, who leads the program. “Both a pipe organ and a chorus are a collection of individual voices and unique sounds, which are combined to create new colors, new musical ideas, and offer new ways to hear poetry. This program features three different pipe organs, found in three different Philadelphia churches. Each instrument, and each building, is unique, but each allows for music to fill its space, for poetry to be heard in new ways, for our minds and souls to stretch as we sing, listen, and observe.”

Poulenc’s La voix humaine
Premieres September 2021
Opera Philadelphia Channel

James Darrah has been one of the busiest creators in classical music during the COVID-19 pandemic, steering the art form’s digital course through films such as Opera Philadelphia’s Soldier Songs (on which he served as co-screenwriter and creative producer), Boston Lyric Opera’s The Fall of the House of Usher and desert in, and digital projects with LA Opera and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Darrah will next direct an art film of Francis Poulenc’s 1958 monodrama La voix humaine, filmed at the gilded Elkins Estate in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. Set to premiere on the Opera Philadelphia Channel in September, the film stars soprano Patricia Racette, who has won numerous accolades for her performances in the role. In previous stage performances, the Chicago Tribune praised her “deeply poignant performance as the unhappy heroine of Poulenc’s setting,” while the Philadelphia Inquirer praised her “sophisticated characterization” as the fragile Elle, who grapples with grief, denial, and anger as she frantically awaits a phone call from her ex-lover.

La voix humaine is absolutely perfect for the language of cinema,” Racette said. “The ability to look into the psyche of this character and offer a level of nuance that perhaps might go unnoticed on the stage but certainly is amplified and celebrated through the lens is very exciting. It’s what we need in this art form, it’s what we need in this world, to be able to really immerse ourselves in the detail of these stories without any sort of a barrier.”

“I think opera is a very strange thing to film,” Darrah said. “At its heart, it’s a super-human freak show. You’re watching people sing very loud, often very intense, hyper-theatrical things. Filming that isn’t very interesting to me because you have to find a way to film it so the theatricality of it makes sense. And that’s hard to do, which is why it tends to be done as a documentary. I thought, if we film this as an art film, experimentally and psychologically, there are things we can’t do with a live performance. The use of a camera and cinematography opens up a whole bunch of possibilities to tell the story in a really cool way.”

Collaborating on the film are pianist Christopher Allen, costume designer Chrisi Karvonides, production designer Tony Fanning, and editor Adam Larsen.

Glass Handel
Premieres October 2021
Opera Philadelphia Channel

Premiering as part of O18, the second edition of Opera Philadelphia’s fall festival, Glass Handel was a bona fide ‘happening’ ─ an immersive, multidisciplinary operatic installation headlined and created by American countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in collaboration with producer Cath Brittan and avant-garde fashion/art company Visionaire.

Under their curation, music by Baroque master George Frederic Handel is juxtaposed with that of living legend Philip Glass and each finds unexpected points of intersection with the worlds of art, fashion, dance, and film. A host of luminaries interpret the music through their own lens: painter George Condo; designer Raf Simons with the fashion house Calvin Klein; choreographer Justin Peck with dancers Patricia Delgado, Daniel Applebaum, Ricky Ubeda, Zoe Zien, and David Hallberg; filmmakers including Tilda Swinton, James Ivory, Maurizio Cattelan, Mickalene Thomas and Mark Romanek, and performance artist Ryan McNamara who keeps the audience moving while they never leave their seats. The event marked the official launch of ARC, Costanzo’s hit solo album debut featuring a collection of Glass and Handel arias released on Decca Gold and subsequently nominated for a GRAMMY.

The exhilaration of those 2018 performances becomes a new multimedia event with a streaming premiere on the Opera Philadelphia Channel. A concert film of the shows at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine featuring Eric Jacobsen conducting The Knights will show a breadth of perspectives that no one audience member saw live. In addition, there will be never-before-seen footage in a documentary that details what it took to make such an ambitious project, from the inspiration to the nuts and bolts to the intricate execution. Filmmaker Pix Talarico, who has documented the entire process since its inception, will direct both.

 “What does it mean to be an opera singer in the 21st century? I think about this a lot, and how it is the job of the artist not simply to be a brilliant performer, but to hone their imagination and cultivate an extensive tool belt so that they can be an active part of propelling the art form forward,” said Anthony Roth Costanzo. “Glass Handel was an insane idea, a project that seemed impossible, but it was one of those rare moments in my artistic life, where the right group of people came together to make something that felt truly new. It was our hope to create points of access both for new audiences and for core audiences that might hesitate about venturing outside of their comfort zone. I can’t wait to share, for the first time ever, the agony and the ecstasy that led to one of the most important experiences of my life.”

Henze’s El Cimarrón 
Premieres November 2021
Opera Philadelphia Channel

With the grandeur of an epic poem, Hans Werner Henze’s 75-minute drama, El Cimarrón (The Runaway Slave), tells the story of Esteban Montejo, a Cuban born into slavery in 1860 who, as a young man, escaped bondage on a sugar plantation, survived in the jungle, fought for Cuban independence from Spain, and lived to describe it all before dying at the age of 113. The work is a tour-de-force for four musicians – baritone, flute, guitar, and percussion – all of whom are also called upon to play percussion throughout.

Beloved Jamaican-born British bass-baritone Sir Willard White makes his highly anticipated Opera Philadelphia debut as Montejo in this cinematic adaptation of the piece, led by director Raelle Myrick-Hodges, founder of Philadelphia’s Azuka Theatre, in collaboration with film director Jorge Cousineau, music director Stephanie Rhodes Russell, and members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.

One of the best-loved and most versatile opera stars of the last 40 years, Sir White's illustrious career has taken him to the most prestigious opera houses and concert halls throughout the world, collaborating with conductors, directors, and orchestras of the highest caliber. “Pity anyone who appears on the same platform as baritone Willard White,” raved The Guardian. “He has so much presence he can eclipse an entire symphony orchestra and chorus with a mere twitch of an eyebrow.”

Digital Commissions
Premiering fall 2021, winter 2022 and spring 2022
Opera Philadelphia Channel

Having commissioned or co-commissioned more than 15 new works since 2011, Opera Philadelphia is recognized as “one of North America’s premiere generators of valid new operas” (Opera News). With stages dark for more than a year due to the pandemic, the company commissioned four of today’s most dynamic composers to create and premiere new works to be streamed on the Opera Philadelphia Channel. For season 2, the company will commission an additional three new works by a new slate of composers, under the leadership of Director of New Works & Creative Producer Sarah Williams.

“Season 1, with works composed by Tyshawn Sorey, Courtney Bryan, Angélica Negrón, and Caroline Shaw, was a fulfilling time of exploration, leaning into new opportunities, and succeeded in building upon our New Works practice for the digital space,” said Williams. “Season 2 will be an opportunity to build upon these incredible works and to create with a new group of composers, filmmakers, musicians and singers who will each bring their unique artistry to three new commissions.”

Returning Favorites on the Opera Philadelphia Channel

In a January review of the Opera Philadelphia Channel, the New York Times noted, “what’s most notable about operaphila.tv is not its mere existence, but the strength of the work on offer,” citing the “searing” film of Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, the “engaging” production of Verdi’s La traviata starring Lisette Oropesa in her role debut as Violetta, and the “revelatory” film adaptation of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs directed by and starring Johnathan McCullough. All of these works remain available on-demand on the channel in season 2, along with short films of the new works The Island We Made by composer Angélica Negrón and filmmaker Matthew Placek, starring drag superstar Sasha Velour; Sorey’s Save the Boys starring countertenor John Holiday; and Caroline Shaw’s We Need to Talk, a composition based on a poem by celebrated poet Anne Carson, featuring soprano Ariadne Greif, in a film by director Maureen Towey and Philadelphia-based Four/Ten Media.

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 developing opera for the 21st century, the company is recognized as “a hotbed of operatic innovation” (New York Times). For more information, visit operaphila.org.

The Opera Philadelphia Channel creates a digital space in which artists can perform and explore, through a series of new commissions by visionary composers and dynamic performances produced for the screen. Season subscriptions priced at $99 are offered along with pay-per-view rental options for individual performances. The channel is available for viewing on computers and mobile devices, and on TV screens via Chromecast and the Opera Philadelphia Channel app on AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV. For more information, visit operaphila.tv.

The Opera Philadelphia Channel has been made possible by the Disosway Foundation, Inc., and by Wyncote Foundation at the recommendation of Frederick R. Haas and Rafael Gomez. Major Support has been provided by Ms. Robin Angly, Maureen Craig and Glenn Goldberg, Joel and Sharon Koppelman, and Ellen Steiner. Additional Support has been provided by Al and Laura, Mr. Jeffrey P. Cunard and Ms. Mariko Ikehara, Katie Adams Schaeffer and Tony Schaeffer, and the Howard and Sarah D. Solomon Foundation.

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