Published28 Feb 2023
Opera Philadelphia's 2023-2024 Season begins with Festival O23 and the World Premiere of Rene Orth and Hannah Moscovitch's 10 Days in a Madhouse, inspired by journalist Nellie Bly
New productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly anchor Academy of Music series alongside Joseph Bologne’s romantic comedy The Anonymous Lover, all conducted by Corrado Rovaris
Festival O23 (September 21-October 1) also includes Unholy Wars created by Karim Sulayman, recitals from the Academy of Vocal Arts and Curtis Opera Theatre, and the return of the Late Night Snacks cabaret series
Sounds of America continues for a second season, spotlighting composers Margaret Bonds and Florence Price
Opera fans across the globe will want to mark their calendars for September 2023 in Philadelphia, as the fifth iteration of Opera Philadelphia’s annual, season-opening Festival O brings a star-studded lineup of live performances to multiple venues in the city from Sept. 21 through Oct. 1.
The annual fall festival has been a hit with audiences and critics, 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).
With six world premieres in its first four years, Festival O continues to exercise an “outsized influence” (New Yorker) on the future of opera in 2023 with the world premiere of 10 Days in a Madhouse, an experimental, psychological opera from composer Rene Orth and librettist Hannah Moscovitch. The opera is inspired by the real-life story of Nellie Bly, a trailblazing reporter who in 1887 faked madness to be admitted to Blackwell’s Asylum for the Insane and to report on conditions from the inside, where Bly encountered women whose poverty, race, and grief over past traumas had been mistaken for madness. She became a star journalist by exposing the asylum’s terrible conditions in the New York World and her hands-on approach to reporting developed into a practice now called investigative journalism.
Grammy-winning soprano Ana María Martínez and Beverly Sills Artist Award-winning baritone Quinn Kelsey were scheduled to make their Opera Philadelphia debuts on the stage of the Academy of Music in a spring 2021 production of Puccini’s Tosca, but the pandemic shifted those plans, with the singers performing in concert for an outdoor audience. The star duo reunites in September’s Simon Boccanegra, as Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris brings Verdi’s tragedy back to the Academy of Music stage for the first time in 30 years. This Festival O23 presentation also stars bass Christian Van Horn as Fiesco and tenor Richard Trey Smagur, in his company debut, as Gabriele.
Faith and representation are at the center of Karim Sulayman’s Unholy Wars, which stitches together operatic selections from the Italian Baroque period about the Crusades. Using Claudio Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda as a keystone, Sulayman refocuses these narratives, addressing issues of Orientalism in the Baroque works to reveal a new story from his Arab American perspective. This Philadelphia premiere from Up Until Now Collective is directed by Kevin Newbury, andincludes animation by Syrian artist Kevork Mourad, new interstitial compositions by Mary Kouyoumdjian, and choreography by Ebony Williams. Early music specialist and violinist Julie Andrijeski provides musical direction.
Winter brings the company premiere of The Anonymous Lover, a 1780 opera by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), who is widely regarded as the first Black classical composer known to history and is the subject of the spring 2023 film Chevalier. Soprano Symone Harcum makes her company debut as Léontine, with tenor Matthew White in his company and role debuts as Valcour. The season closes at the Academy of Music with a new production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in which director Aria Umezawa constructs, and deconstructs, Puccini’s fantasy of Japan, infusing the typical Westernized portrayal with Japanese history, culture, and artistry, while giving the young geisha Cio- Cio-San (soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho) a new sense of agency over her own story.
Subscriptions and season ticket 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 Tuesday, July 18.
FESTIVAL O23 PRODUCTIONS
10 Days in a Madhouse
Music by Rene Orth | Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch
Co-commissioned & co-produced with Tapestry Opera
Sept. 21, 23, 26, 28, 30
Performed in English with English supertitles
Rene Orth is a composer that "breaks new ground" (Opera News), writing music described as “always dramatic, reflective, rarely predictable, and often electronic” (Musical America). A graduate of Opera Philadelphia’s Composer in Residence program, her 2021 digital commission TakTakShoo was called “polished, assured, and uniquely Philadelphian” (Philadelphia Inquirer), and her creative journey with the company continues with Festival O23’s world premiere of 10 Days in a Madhouse.
“10 Days in a Madhouse exposes – as Nellie Bly herself did – the feminization of madness, the bias of doctors against the sanity of women, and how the systems and social structures in which women find themselves induce madness,” said Orth, who creates the new opera with librettist Hannah Moscovitch (AMC’s Interview with the Vampire), director Joanna Settle (Sky on Swings) and conductor Daniela Candillari (principal conductor at Opera Theatre of St. Louis) in her company debut.
Soprano Kiera Duffy stars as Nellie Bly, returning to the Opera Philadelphia stage for the first time since creating the role of Bess McNeill in the 2016 world premiere of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Breaking the Waves. The New York Times called it a “star turn” and “one of the most riveting operatic performances of the year.”
Called “a voice for this historic moment” (Washington Post), GRAMMY-winning baritone Will Liverman was the recipient of the 2022 Beverly Sills Artist Award by the Metropolitan Opera. He co-created and starred in the world premiere of The Factotum, co-written with DJ King Rico, at Lyric Opera of Chicago in February 2023, and opened the Met’s 2021-22 season in a celebrated “breakout performance” (New York Times) as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Liverman’s fall 2023 season begins with creating the role of Dr. Blackwell in 10 Days in a Madhouse, the second time he has brought a new character to life on the Opera Philadelphia stage, having created the role of Dizzy Gillespie in the 2015 world premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette Wimberly.
Hailed by the New York Times as a “striking mezzo soprano” and by the San Francisco Chronicle for her “electrifying sense of fearlessness,” Raehann Bryce-Davis makes her Opera Philadelphia debut as Lizzie, a friend that Nellie makes at the asylum and a key component of the opera’s musical storytelling.
“10 Days in a Madhouse is an acoustic work that is selectively electronic,” said Orth. “The acoustic world represents reality as most see it, and the electronic sound world — which includes amplification, live vocal effects, sound design and electronic clips — will dramatize the characters’ journeys into madness.”
The commissioning of Rene Orth for 10 Days in a Madhouse received funding from OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Music by Giuseppe Verdi | Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Production from Opéra Royal de Wallonie – Liège (Belgium)
Sept. 22, 24, 29, Oct. 1
Academy of Music
Performed in Italian with English supertitles
Verdi's epic Simon Boccanegra is a family tragedy interwoven with rivalry and political turmoil. One of the composer’s most powerful works and essential viewing for Verdi lovers, it is best known for its “poignant relationship between father and daughter” (NPR), brought to the stage in this new production by Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey in his role debut as the titular Doge of Genoa and Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez as his long-lost daughter, Amelia.
A story of power and betrayal, public duty and private love, the opera tells the story of Simon Boccanegra, a leader coming into great power who must balance duty to his nation with his duties as a father. Surrounded by poisonous rivals, can he be the man those who love him need him to be and survive the plots of those who hate him?
Praised by the New York Times as an “arresting artist” with “full vocal and dramatic depth,” Kelsey was the 2015 Beverly Sills Award recipient. He is in demand for the Verdi, Puccini, and French repertoires in houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Opernhaus Zürich. Martínez is considered one of the foremost sopranos of her time, with an international career that spans the world’s most important opera houses and concert halls. A winner of the 15th Annual Opera News Awards, her repertoire encompasses opera’s most intriguing and diverse leading ladies, and she engages audiences season after season with signature roles, spellbinding debuts, and a myriad of captivating recordings.
They are joined by 2018 Richard Tucker Award winner Christian Van Horn, called “one of those treasurable singers” by Opera News, in the role of Fiesco, and tenor Richard Trey Smagur, in his Opera Philadelphia debut, as Gabriele Adorno. Van Horn made his company debut in Festival O18 as Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor, where his performance was called “a standout” of the festival by the Washington Post. Smagur, a Georgia native, has been noted for his "attractive lyric tenor" and "vivid presence" (Opera Today) and was named a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2017. The powerhouse cast also features baritone Benjamin Taylor as Paolo and bass Cory McGee in his company debut as Pietro.
Leading the musical forces is Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris, praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer for the “meticulous musical preparation” and “performance electricity” he brings to Verdi’s operas.
Music by George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, and Mary Kouyoumdjian
Conceived and performed by Karim Sulayman
Sept. 23, 27, 30, Oct. 1
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA, developed by Up Until Now Collective, and co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA and Up Until Now Collective
Performed in Latin and Italian with English supertitles
In this intimate work from Grammy Award winning tenor Karim Sulayman, selections from the early Baroque period are stitched together to reveal a compelling story of the Crusades. The narrative shifts, however, as the works— originally written through a European lens by composers including Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi, Handel, d’India, and Giulio and Francesca Caccini—are sung from a contemporary Arab American perspective, examining the Western opera canon’s relationship to the Middle East.
“This is a meditation on the resilience of marginalized people everywhere, and the reclamation of our own stories,” says Sulayman, a first generation American from Lebanese parents. “For centuries, the Middle East has been at the center of immense conflict—all under the pretense of God’s name—and these wars rage on. My aim is to delve into racial inequities that ravage our history and our present moment. Music can create a space without borders; Unholy Wars affords us an opportunity to contemplate our own otherness and our sense of belonging.”
Accompanying Sulayman is an ensemble of Baroque music specialists, including bass-baritone John Taylor Ward and rising-star soprano Raha Mirzadegan. They are joined onstage by dancer Coral Dolphin. Armenian American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian links each Baroque selection with new interstitial compositions. Musical direction is led by violinist and early music specialist Julie Andrijeski. The multidisciplinary performance, directed by Up Until Now Collective’s Kevin Newbury, incorporates choreography by Ebony Williams as well as video animation and projections by Syrian visual artist Kevork Mourad.
Unholy Wars is co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA and Up Until Now Collective. It received its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA in 2022, where the Wall Street Journal praised its “stylish elegance and intensity” and “space for contemplation.”
FESTIVAL O23 EVENTS
“Afternoons at AVA”
Co-presented with the Academy of Vocal Arts
Sept. 23, 27, 30
Helen Corning Warden Theater, Academy of Vocal Arts
For more than 88 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 and a midweek lunchtime recital at their historic and intimate concert hall. Singers and repertoire to be announced in summer.
Co-presented with Curtis Opera Theatre
Sept. 22 & 29
Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute of Music
Through imaginative productions, bold concepts, and absorbing theater, the artists of the Curtis Opera Theatre prepare to become stars of the world stage. The combination of key elements of artistry—music, acting, singing, and costumes—allows these student-artists to create a lasting connection with audiences.
Hear singers trained in this prestigious Philadelphia program perform in recital at the historic and intimate Field Concert Hall. Singers and repertoire to be announced in summer.
“Late Night Snacks”
Presented in partnership with The Bearded Ladies Cabaret and FringeArts
Dates and pop-up location to be announced
The Bearded Ladies Cabaret returns to share a new selection of guilty pleasures, soul nourishment, and tasty cabaret treats in the annual Late Night Snacks series, presented as part of Festival O23 and the 2023 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Performances feature different artists every night — from opera singers to drag queens, cabaret stars to art clowns, and everything in between — all baked together and seasoned to perfection, blending the rich cultures of Philadelphia with entertainment like you’ve never sampled before. Details to be announced in summer.
WINTER + SPRING PRODUCTIONS
The Anonymous Lover
Music by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Libretto by François-Georges Fouques Deshayes, Desfontaines, based on the play L’Amant Anonyme by Stéphanie Félicité, Madame de Genlis
Company Premiere | Semi-staged Production
February 2 & 4, 2024
Academy of Music
Performed in French with English supertitles
Born in 1745 on the French Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe, Joseph Bologne was the son of Anne Nanon, a Black enslaved woman, and George de Bologne de Saint Georges, the French nobleman who owned her. Educated in France, Bologne found his talents in fencing, riding, and above all, music. During the pre-revolutionary period in France, he was considered one of the most important composers of his time — even performing for and teaching the Queen of France herself, Marie Antionette. His life is the subject of the spring 2023 feature film Chevalier.
A romantic comedy ahead of its time, Bologne’s only surviving opera, The Anonymous Lover centers on young widow Léontine. When she begins to receive a series of passionate letters from a secret admirer, she wrestles with whether she can love again, especially when it becomes apparent her friend Valcour is the un-signed author. Will love win?
This semi-staged company premiere directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling stars soprano Symone Harcum as Léontine, a role she performed to audience and critical acclaim with Minnesota Opera in 2022. She is joined by tenor Matthew White in his company and role debuts as Valcour. A graduate of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, White was called “a dazzling beacon of an artist” by the Post and Courier. Rounding out the comedic cast are baritone Johnathan McCullough, hailed as both director and star of Opera Philadelphia’s 2021 film of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs, as Ophémon; soprano Ashley Marie Robillard as Jeanette; and tenor Joshua Blue as Colin. Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris conducts, with Elizabeth Braden leading the Opera Philadelphia Chorus.
Music by Giacomo Puccini; libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
April 26, 28, May 3, 5, 2024
Academy of Music
Performed in Italian with English supertitles
In this new production of Madame Butterfly, director Aria Umezawa constructs, and deconstructs, Puccini’s fantasy of Japan, infusing the typical Westernized portrayal with Japanese history, culture, and artistry, while giving Cio-Cio-San a new sense of agency over her own story.
Umezawa is an artist-innovator focused on changing the culture of opera and opera creation. The Toronto-based artist, co-founder of Amplified Opera, an organization that places equity-seeking artists at the center of public discourse, made her company debut in Festival O22, leading an “ingeniously mounted” (Wall Street Journal) new production of Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven.
Her production of Madame Butterfly makes use of a paratextual framing device to make sense of the factual errors in Puccini’s representation of Japanese culture. Specifically, it introduces two new elements: a taiko drumming group to represent the Japanese art and voices that are often overlooked in conversations about Japanese representation in opera, and a silent character, The Stage Director, to call attention to the Western lens through which this piece was conceived.
“We will establish a vibrant world using the taiko group,” says Umezawa. “This world will be seen by The Stage Director, who will become inspired to build the world of Puccini’s opera. Through constructing this fantasy world that is inspired by, but not representative of Japanese culture, Japanese artistry will be made invisible. This action will mirror Cio-Cio-San’s own journey of constructing a fantasy world for herself and her relationship with Pinkerton.”
In Act II, as Butterfly resists confronting the truth, the fantasy world created by The Stage Director will begin to crumble, and eventually, come toppling down as the truth becomes unavoidable through Act III.
Winner of the prestigious Renee Fleming Award from the Eastman School of Music, Taiwanese soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho makes her Opera Philadelphia debut as the young geisha Cio-Cio-San. Before earning raves for performances at San Francisco Opera and Carnegie Hall, she began her musical career at the age of 6 singing in the Taipei Hua-Hsin Children's Choir of Taiwan.
Called “a firm, fresh lyric tenor, full of promise” by Opera News, Anthony Ciaramitaro makes his company debut as U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton. Anthony Clark Evans, who impressed in the title role of 2021’s Rigoletto, returns as Sharpless, with mezzo Kristen Choi (2021's The Raven) as Suzuki, tenor Julius Ahn as Goro, and baritone Kyle Miller in his company debut as Yamadori. Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris conducts, with Elizabeth Braden leading the Opera Philadelphia Chorus.
Sounds of America is a multi-year celebration of Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) and Florence Price (1887-1953), who played significant roles in the development of classical music and American history as two of the most prominent Black women composers of the 20th century. The initiative amplifies and centers Black artists, creatives, and scholars through accessible student-focused programming and public events created in partnership with organizations, venues, and artists across Philadelphia and nationwide, including ONEcomposer, the National Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the International Florence Price Festival, and more.
Sounds of America events include “Resonant Philly” a relaxed performance at World Cafe Live starring Cookie Diorio, a “classically trained singer/drag star extraordinaire” (Philadelphia Inquirer) performing works performed by Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Billie Holiday, as well as unpublished compositions by Margaret Bonds and Florence Price newly arranged for voice and band. Audience members are invited to experience the performance with Vibrotextile™ wearable technology, where the art of haptics from Music: Not Impossible. This hour-long cabaret is a relaxed performance that includes ASL, audio description, and is wheelchair accessible.
Also coming in the 2023-2024 Season are a series of performances, lectures, and readings including the return of “Opera Storybook Times,” featuring free readings of the children’s book When Marian Sang about the life of Philadelphia contralto Marian Anderson, featuring compositions by Price and Bonds interwoven through the storytelling; and free readings of Lily’s First Trip to the Opera by Dr. Christine Jobson.
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.