Opera Philadelphia

Published15 Mar 2022

Opera Philadelphia’s 2022-2023 Season Launches in September with the Return of Festival O

New productions of Rossini’s Otello and Puccini’s La bohème anchor Academy of Music series alongside a winter concert of Carmina Burana

Festival O22 (September 21-October 2) includes World Premiere of David T. Little’s Black Lodge, a new production of Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven, and Latonia Moore’s return to the Academy of Vocal Arts

Call for entries announced for Festival O celebration of Opera on Film

Debuting in 2017, Opera Philadelphia’s annual, season-opening Festival O immediately garnered audience and critical acclaim, proving to be “a hotbed of operatic innovation” (New York Times) and “one of the most enjoyable additions to the fall calendar in years” (Washington Post). Following a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, the annual 12-day gathering for opera lovers returns in September with its fourth iteration, O22, featuring live opera performances at multiple venues in Philadelphia as well as a series of film screenings and a panel discussion that explores whether the industry’s recent foray into cinematic production was a temporary blip or a game-changer for the art form.

Launching both O22 and the company’s year-round subscription Academy Series is a new production of Rossini’s rarely performed Otello starring tenors Lawrence Brownlee (Rodrigo), Khanyiso Gwenxane (Otello), and Alek Shrader (Iago), vying for the affections of mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack’s Desdemona. Festival audiences will also experience two supernaturally atmospheric works: director Aria Umezawa leads a new production of Toshio Hosokawa’s monodrama The Raven based on Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem, starring mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi; and composer David T. Little’s newest operatic and cinematic creation, Black Lodge, produced by Beth Morrison Projects, which takes viewers through a surreal psychological escape room without an escape, starring the dark glam opera band Timur and the Dime Museum.

In a first for Festival O, Opera Philadelphia will screen a selection of feature-length and short-form opera films on multiple screens at the Philadelphia Film Center, the city’s premier hub for film, and is inviting creators to submit their film projects for consideration to be screened alongside classic opera films and recent cinematic works created for the Opera Philadelphia Channel. The festival will also spotlight singers trained at Philadelphia's acclaimed Academy of Vocal Arts, as star graduates including soprano Latonia Moore return to perform alongside current Resident Artists in two Saturday recitals at their historic and intimate concert hall.

The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus heat up the winter as they unite on the Academy stage for concert performances of Orff’s scorching Carmina Burana. The season closes with director Yuval Sharon’s bold staging of Puccini’s La bohème in reverse order—starting with Act IV and ending with Act I—extracting hope from tragedy, life from death, and love from loneliness.

With a full season on stage, the company will also continue to stream original programs on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, called “one of the most successful pandemic pivots among American opera presenters” (The New Yorker), including new digital commissions and the streaming premiere of Black Lodge. Additional programming will continue to be announced on an ongoing basis.

Subscriptions and Festival packages 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.). Single tickets will go on sale on Monday, July 18.

Otello (new production)
Music by Gioachino Rossini; libretto by Francesco Berio di Salsa
Sep 23, 25, 30, Oct. 2, 2022
Academy of Music
Performed in Italian with English supertitles

Opera Philadelphia Artistic Advisor Lawrence Brownlee returns to the Academy of Music stage as Rodrigo, debuting the 18th Rossini role in his storied career, in a new production of Rossini’s Otello. He is joined by fellow tenors Khanyiso Gwenxane in the title role and Alek Shrader as Iago, with mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Desdemona.

First staged in 1816, in between premieres of the composer’s popular comedies The Barber of Seville and La cenerentola, Rossini’s Otello is far less performed in U.S. opera houses than Verdi’s landmark 1887 opera based on Shakespeare’s tragedy. In a new production from Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie de Liège, described as “beautiful and meaningful” by Operawire, Spanish director Emilio Sagi sets the action at the beginning of the 20th century, shortly after World War I, within the main hall of a Victorian mansion. In a world ruled by men, Desdemona defies her father, Emilio, and marries his enemy Otello rather than the nobleman Rodrigo. Their love is undone by the vengeful Iago, who is also in love with Desdemona and plots to convince Otello that his wife has been unfaithful.

Captivating audiences and critics around the globe, Brownlee has been hailed as “an international star in the bel canto operatic repertory” (New York Times) and “one of the world’s leading bel canto stars” (The Guardian). In a 2021 concert performance of “Amici e Rivali” with Opera Philadelphia, Brownlee teased some of that was to come in Otello, performing Rodrigo and Otello’s explosive duet, “Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue” to wild applause. In this new production, Brownlee will match vocal fireworks with the South African tenor Gwenxane, who makes his U.S. stage debut in the role of Otello, which he previously performed as a member of the ensemble at Germany’s Musiktheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen. “Khanyiso Gwenxane masters the title role with a slightly dark tenor, which scores particularly well in the lyrical moments,” raved Mundo Classico.

Having starred in Festival O18 in the title role of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Elizabeth Cree and O19 as Juno and Ino in Handel’s Semele, Mack brings “a voice like polished onyx: strong, dark, deep and gleaming” (Opera News) to the role of Desdemona. Shrader’s “disarming warmth” (Opera News) is an ideal fit for the role of Iago. They are joined by three singers making their company debuts: Chinese American mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce brings her “commanding” (Santa Barbara Independent) voice to the role of Emilia; bass-baritone Christian Pursell as a “formidable” (San Francisco Chronicle) Emilio; and tenor Aaron Crouch bring his “immense intensity and vocal ability” (Opera News) as Gondoliere. Corrado Rovaris, the company’s GRAMMY-nominated Jack Mulroney Music Director, leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Raven (new production)
Music by Toshio Hosokawa
Based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Sep 21, 24, 29, Oct 1, 2022
Merriam Theater
Performed in English with English supertitles

Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem, Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa frames his 2012 monodrama The Raven as a Japanese Noh play, a theatrical genre dating to the 14th century, with its interaction between the human protagonist and an otherworldly animal. The Raven conjures up a shadowy and unfamiliar world through 45 engrossing minutes of music for mezzo-soprano and 12 instruments, described as “atmospheric and organic” by the New York Times.

This new production is led by director Aria Umezawa, an artist-innovator who is focused on changing the culture of opera and opera creation and is co-founder of the Toronto-based indie-opera company Amplified Opera, and stars mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi. Hailed by Opera News as a “powerhouse in the making,” Choi is known to Opera Philadelphia Channel viewers from her appearance as “a goddess figure” (Good Morning America) in TakTakShoo, a world premiere short film from composer Rene Orth, librettist Kanika Ambrose, and director Jeffrey L. Page. Choi makes her company stage debut in April 2022 as Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Leading twelve players from the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra is Japanese American conductor Eiki Isomura, now in his fourth season as artistic director and principal conductor of the Houston-based Opera in the Heights, where he has led over 25 operas, drawing consistent praise for elevating the company's performance standard. "The orchestra has never sounded so focused," wrote the Houston Press.

Audiences will be immersed in the world of Edgar Allan Poe from the moment they enter the Merriam Theater, as they are greeted by a Poe-inspired pre-show experience. Audiences will then be seated on the Merriam stage for The Raven, where performances will be presented in the round.

“I am fascinated by the spaces we create for ourselves while we are trying to cope with the pressures and realities of everyday life,” Umezawa says. “At a time when local, national, and global concerns occupy an increasing amount of public awareness, how do we as individuals find room to breathe, process, and heal? Many of Edgar Allen Poe's stories explore what happens when an inner experience collides with external reality so my hope for this production is that through Toshio Hosokawa's opera, we can bring awareness to how this dynamic affects our own lives.”

Black Lodge (world premiere)
Music by David T. Little; libretto by Anne Waldman
Screenplay and direction by Michael Joseph McQuilken
Produced by Beth Morrison Projects
Oct 1 & 2, 2022
Mainstage at the Philadelphia Film Center
Performed in English with English supertitles

“Be very careful what you need to know.” So warns the unnamed protagonist of David T. Little’s newest operatic and cinematic creation, Black Lodge. Part haunted house, part sacred ritual, this bold new work with a libretto by legendary poet Anne Waldman and screenplay and direction by Michael Joseph McQuilken blends opera and rock into an alchemical exploration of magic, mystery, regret, and redemption. Black Lodge is an inspired and radical reconsideration of the operatic form by one of America’s most prolific and daring opera composers.

Trapped in a nightmarish Bardo, a place between death and rebirth, a tormented writer faces down demons of his own making. Forced to confront his darkest moment, he mines fractured and repressed memories for a way out. Loosely inspired by the complicated mythologies of writer William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch) and others, Black Lodge uses industrial rock and opera to take viewers through a surreal Lynchian escape room, and questions what it takes to face our demons and ultimately, to face ourselves.

The Festival O22 performances will spotlight the Black Lodge film with live musical performance by singer and band Timur & the Dime Museum and members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and will serve as the capstone of O22’s exploration of Opera on Film. Shortly after the festival, the film will make its streaming debut on the Opera Philadelphia Channel.

Black Lodge is a continued collaboration with the groundbreaking Beth Morrison Projects, the producing entity that developed and produced Black Lodge over the past ten years. Founded by “contemporary opera mastermind” (LA Times) Beth Morrison, who was honored as one of Musical America’s Artists of the Year/Agents of Change in 2020, BMP has grown into “a driving force behind America’s thriving opera scene” (Financial Times), with Opera News declaring that the company, “more than any other… has helped propel the art form into the twenty-first century.”

Known as “one of the most imaginative young composers on the music-theatre scene” (New Yorker), Little is a graduate of Opera Philadelphia’s Composer in Residence program. His operas Dog Days, JFK, and Soldier Songs have been widely acclaimed, with the 2021 Opera Philadelphia Channel film of Soldier Songs nominated for a GRAMMY award for Best Opera Recording. An active member of the Outrider experimental poetry movement, Waldman has published over forty books of poetry and has received numerous awards and honors for her poetry, including the American Book Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award. Internationally acclaimed stage director/writer/filmmaker McQuilken works fluidly in theater, opera, film, and music, and "has redefined collaborative art” (Philly Voice).

Described as a “punk-operatic spectacle” (LA Times), the dark glam opera band Timur and the Dime Museum was born to fuse sounds with fierceness and theatricality. Timur, “the extravagantly transgressive tenor” (LA Times), has made solo appearances with LA Philharmonic, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and Spoleto Festival, among many others.

Opera commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects and the Allen R. and Judy Brick Freedman Venture Fund for Opera. Film commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, Opera Philadelphia, the Allen R. and Judy Brick Freedman Venture Fund for Opera, David & Kiki Gindler, Charlotte Isaacs, and Thomas H. Platz, with additional support provided by the Howard Gilman Foundation. Developed by Beth Morrison Projects, California Institute for the Arts, HERE Arts Center, and REDCAT. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

“Opera on Film”
Sep 27-Oct. 2, 2022
Philadelphia Film Center

The highly anticipated Festival O22 will celebrate both the return to multiple live performance venues in Philadelphia as well as the industry’s recent bold foray into cinematic opera necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Live audiences will enjoy a selection of feature-length and short-form opera films on multiple screens at the Philadelphia Film Center, the city’s premier hub for film. Producers and artists are invited to submit their film projects for consideration to be screened alongside new and classic opera films and recent cinematic works created for the Opera Philadelphia Channel. Festival entries must be submitted by May 15, 2022, via FilmFreeway.

“This is a festival of opera on film, and we’re cool with whatever that means to you; let’s see what you’ve got,” said Frank Luzi, Opera Philadelphia’s Vice President of Digital Strategy. “We seek any combination of inventive, bold, and otherwise provocative work that was made before or during the pandemic. Since 2020, we have witnessed an unprecedented period of creativity and flexibility in the opera industry, as our inability to gather on stage spawned tremendous operatic film experimentation. Now, as our attentions and resources return to the stage, we as artists and audiences must ask ourselves if Opera on Film is now a part of our creative DNA or if it was merely a temporary diversion. It is our goal to explore this question in this mini film festival tucked neatly into an opera festival.”

A full lineup of screenings, panel discussions, and events will be announced in summer.

“Afternoons at AVA”
Co-presented with the Academy of Vocal Arts
Sep 24 & Oct 1, 2022
Helen Corning Warden Theater, Academy of Vocal Arts

For more than 87 years, gifted singers have come from around the world to seek the exceptional guidance and training at Philadelphia’s acclaimed Academy of Vocal Arts. Through rigorous instruction and coaching, and by presentations of Resident Artists from around the world in concerts, oratorios, public programs and fully staged professional opera productions, AVA trains artists with the high potential for career success while enriching lives in Philadelphia and beyond. 

Hear today's leading singers alongside the opera stars of tomorrow as singers trained at AVA perform in two Saturday afternoon recitals at their historic and intimate concert hall.

On Saturday, Oct. 1, star soprano Latonia Moore returns to AVA to perform in recital alongside current students. Praised as “richly talented” by the New York Times, Moore’s 2021-2022 season has included Metropolitan Opera performances as Billie in Fire Shut Up in My Bones and Serena in Porgy & Bess, as well as the title roles in Aida with Washington National Opera and Madame Butterfly with the Dallas Opera.

Additional singers and repertoire will be announced this summer.

Carmina Burana (concert performances)
Music by Carl Orff
Feb 3 & 5, 2023
Academy of Music

When Carl Orff (1895–1982) premiered his rollicking cantata Carmina Burana in 1937, he couldn’t have imagined that its opening strain "O Fortuna" would be one of the most-often quoted classical music themes in American popular culture. Nor did he probably anticipate that it would become, more than eight decades later, one of the most popular pieces of the classical music repertoire. Spellbinding, hypnotic, and heart-pounding, Carmina Burana simply must be experienced live. The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus unite on the stage of the Academy of Music for two performances of this choral masterwork.

Joining the concert as soloists are dynamic soprano Brandie Sutton, tenor Alasdair Kent, and baritone Ethan Vincent. Sutton has garnered accolades and devoted fans around the globe, hailed by the New York Times for her “warm, ample voice.” Kent, a graduate of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, is an alumnus of Opera Philadelphia’s Emerging Artist Program who has been described as “disarmingly charming” by Bachtrack. Called “a rising star” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Vincent is rapidly gaining recognition as a versatile artist with a “robust baritone voice and compelling stage presence” (Chicago Tribune). 

Orff’s cantata will be preceded by a suite of choral works for a multi-part evening of thrilling music.

La bohème (new production)
Music by Giacomo Puccini; libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Apr 28 & 30, May 5 & 7, 2023
Academy of Music
Performed in Italian with English supertitles
Runtime is approximately 100 minutes with no intermission

One of opera’s most widely performed tragedies receives an audacious new retelling. In a historic first, director Yuval Sharon sets Puccini’s La bohème in reverse order—starting with Act IV and ending with Act I—extracting hope from tragedy, life from death, and love from loneliness. This adventurous production is designed by John Conklin, one of the foremost figures in American stage design, presenting the characters and arias we love in a refreshing, new vision of the story. A co-production of Detroit Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, and Spoleto Festival USA, this unconventional take on Puccini’s most popular work is itself a bohemian work of art: experimental, nonconforming, and original.

A MacArthur Fellow and one of the most innovative names in opera today, Sharon has been described as “opera’s disrupter in residence” (New York Times). He is widely known for city-spanning operas and immersive site-specific works, staging operas in moving vehicles and parking garages, amongst many other non-traditional performance spaces.

“Reordering a performance of La bohème—to begin with the end and end with the beginning—means working back from devastation towards hope and love,” Sharon says. “It means listening with fresh ears to a piece that falls often into predictability. Reemerging from the pandemic and returning indoors to see live opera requires all of us to transform our habits, and I believe this is precisely the moment to reexamine our connection to these masterpieces. For those who know La bohème so deeply, this may open a new door to experiencing the work in a new way. And for people who are unfamiliar, it will be a beautiful entry point.”

Conducted by Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris, La bohème stars British-American tenor Joshua Blue as Rodolfo and Philadelphia-born soprano Kara Goodrich as Mimì. Scheduled to make his company and role debuts as the Duke of Mantua in Opera Philadelphia’s spring 2022 production of Rigoletto, Blue is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School. Goodrich is a recent graduate of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, where she took first prize in the 2020 Giargiari Competition. Haitian American soprano Melissa Joseph makes her company debut as Musetta, bringing her “effortless” vocal technique (Boston Musical Intelligencer) and gorgeous tone to the Academy stage opposite baritone Troy Cook in a return engagement as Musetta’s love, the artist Marcello. In past performances with Opera Philadelphia, Cook was praised for his “strong, well-rounded portrayal of Marcello” (Opera News).

Joining the band of bohemians and making their company debuts are baritone Benjamin Taylor as Schaunard and bass Adam Lau as Colline, with bass Kevin Burdette returning as Alcindoro and the Wanderer.

Opera Philadelphia Channel
Streaming at operaphila.tv

Called “one of the best bets going, worldwide” by the New York Times, the Opera Philadelphia Channel has been streaming original programming since October 2020 and remains a cornerstone of the company’s production activity.

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, Francis Poulenc’s La voix humaine, Ana Sokolović’s Svadba, and Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, and world premiere commissions like Rene Orth’s TakTakShoo will continue to be available on-demand alongside new digital commissions. Additional programming will continue to be announced on an ongoing basis.

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. Annual subscriptions 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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