Opera Philadelphia

Published23 Nov 2021

New Directions series from Music Theatre Wales will stream on the Opera Philadelphia Channel beginning Dec. 1

Bold digital works from artists new to opera aim to redefine the art form for our times

In digital partnership, Music Theatre Wales audiences to experience Opera Philadelphia commissions by composers Tyshawn Sorey and Daniel Bernard Roumain

New Directions, a series of three digital collaborations from artists new to opera created by Music Theatre Wales, will stream for free on the Opera Philadelphia Channel beginning Wednesday, Dec. 1 through May 31, 2022. Led by Artistic Associate Elayce Ismail and Director Michael McCarthy, New Directions questions what opera is and what it can be by commissioning and working with artists who have been ignored or excluded from creating opera previously. 

Writer, composer, and performer Tumi Williams and multidisciplinary director and dramaturg Sita Thomas collaborated on The House of Jollof Opera, an exploration and expansion of the operatic form. The story is about budding chef Adeola who brings style and his specialty, vegan jollof, to impress Asha, a tired and hard-working boss of a neighborhood cafe.

“This project gave me the freedom to work with opera, but in the way that I could work with it, I wanted to bridge the traditions of opera and bring my culture into that context,” Williams said of the three-minute piece. “I felt challenged making this work with Sita because it represents me, and I wasn't sure if it was something people wanted to see. Sita and I bounced off each other to make the piece and this creative process has pushed me, and it was new and interesting to have dialogue with an opera singer.”

Pride (A Lion's Roar) is created by composer and music producer Renell Shaw and artist and writer Rachael Young, with visuals by Kyle LegallThe four-minute composition narratesthe experience of prejudice that many people of color have endured: of being told that they are “aggressive” or “too loud” because their metaphorical roars are unfamiliar in the environments that they have to operate within. Of being made to feel like they have to make themselves smaller to be accepted, turning their roar into a purr so that others don’t feel threatened.

“I had never been to the opera before as it was always too expensive, but when I would see something online, I would find the scale and visual language very inspiring.” Young said. “So, I had a sense of opera and I love the way the voice fills the space. With epic voices and epic scenes, I wanted to move opera to a different place, like a graphic novel. I was tackling a new genre and the pandemic opened doors on new things where I could be more experimental across forms. It was a great collaboration with Renell. From early on a theme emerged and we were able to share the development of lyrics and music together.”

“I’m excited about exploring new ways to fuse musical genres and express narrative,” Shaw said. “Opera vocalists are powerful and dynamic in a way that is specific to their genre; the idea of taking that sound and respectfully placing it in a world where it may not normally be heard opens up endless possibilities for me.”

Reflecting on new forms and spaces for music theatre to exist within, writer and dancer Krystal S. Lowe and composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman have created a five-minute work that draws on the theater of opera, the emotion and expression of lieder and innateness of dance. Somehow is an exploration of intimacy and relationships, not only between the music and movement, but between performer and audience, blurring the lines between onstage and onscreen. Somehow offers a redefined operatic experience that embodies how we live today, and our connections with one another.

“With Somehow I didn't want to try to steer the audience to an understanding of the meaning, but to offer music, movement, and voice, allowing them to connect with the character and to craft their own narrative,” Lowe said. “As a writer and dancer developing my audio description practice, I wanted to achieve an audio description that draws audiences into an intimate space which isn't crowded but instead leaves room for reflection. The writing for this work was inspired by relationships in my own life, including my relationship with myself. The feeling of being deeply known and understood, connecting with a person or version of self. Elayce and Michael gave us the space, resources, and time to do this work in a program that is core to MTW's vision for their company, and it feels essential, authentic, and innovative.”

Elayce Ismail, artistic associate, Music Theatre Wales said: “There are so many barriers to working in opera, and also to accessing it as an audience member, from the perception of what the art form is and who it is for, through to access to training. New Directions aims to chip away at some of these barriers and revitalize what opera can be, who makes it and who it’s made for. Opera is such a dynamic art form and I think it can absolutely resonate with contemporary audiences, but to do so it needs new artists and new ideas to invigorate, challenge and develop it. For New Directions we’ve brought together three brilliant pairs of collaborators, who each bring different creative practices to the mix, and who have been generous and inquisitive in our discussions about the potential of opera. It's been wonderful seeing how each of our creators has embraced the challenge, and the added element of creating work remotely for digital audiences, to make three unique and compelling new operatic works.”

Michael McCarthy, director, Music Theatre Wales said: “MTW has been a force for change and development in opera in the UK, and we are thrilled to partner with Opera Philadelphia, a company renowned for embracing innovation and developing opera reflective of our time, to bring New Directions to an international audience. Our two companies first partnered on Denis & Katya by composer Philip Venables and librettist Ted Huffman, and through that experience we recognized that we shared a mutual desire to give opera a bit of a kick, questioning the way it is written and how it is produced and perceived. I have been impressed by Opera Philadelphia’s digital commissions released over the past year and by their ability to bring new voices to the art form and to deliver remarkable and memorable experiences, and this partnership will allow our shared audience to consider all these digital works in a broader context. The world has changed and so must we. If we want to reach new audiences and stimulate wider interest in the creation of new opera with the huge potential it has, we need to be working with artists who can lead us in new and unexpected directions.”

All three works will be available to watch free on the Opera Philadelphia Channel through May 31, 2022.

As part of a digital partnership, Opera Philadelphia will share three recent films with Music Theatre Wales audiences: They Still Want to Kill Us, an aria by composer and activist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) performed by mezzo J’Nai Bridges, marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre; Save the Boys, from composer Tyshawn Sorey, based on an 1887 poem by abolitionist, writer, and Black women’s rights activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), performed by countertenor John Holiday; and Cycles of My Being, with music by Sorey and lyrics by MacArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes and superstar tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who sings the piece, a timely song cycle exploring the realities of life as a Black man in America today. They Still Want to Kill Us streams free on the Opera Philadelphia Channel from Dec. 1, 2021-Jan. 31, 2022. Cycles of My Being and Save the Boys will be available in a half-price rental package for $15 through Feb. 11, 2022.

Visit operaphila.tv to start streaming the Opera Philadelphia Channel.

About Music Theatre Wales

Music Theatre Wales exists to breathe new life into opera and music theatre as contemporary forms of artistic expression. Based in Wales, we are changing the way opera is made and perceived, by addressing who makes it, by reaching out to new and more diverse audiences, and by creating new work that responds to and reflects society: Giving opera a new voice and new ownership; celebrating opera as a multidisciplinary form.

 At the heart of our work is the ambition to discover and support the development of new talent and new ideas. We are working with outstanding artists who are new to opera, especially those who have been ignored or excluded by opera, with young people across Wales, and with communities who have not traditionally participated in opera. Developing the diversity of the company, the people we work with and the audiences we reach. https://www.musictheatre.wales/  

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.

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