Opera Philadelphia

Published18 Jul 2023

Single Tickets now on sale for Opera Philadelphia's Festival O23

September’s annual opera binge features the World Premiere of 10 Days in a Madhouse by composer Rene Orth and librettist Hannah Moscovitch; New production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra starring Quinn Kelsey and Ana María Martínez; and Philadelphia premiere of Unholy Wars created by Karim Sulayman

Opera fans across the globe are getting ready 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. Single tickets for all festival productions are now on sale.

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.

Also returning to Festival O are three performance series with musical partners in Philadelphia. "Afternoons at AVA" spotlights singers trained at the acclaimed Academy of Vocal Arts, with recitals starring mezzo-soprano Anne Marie Stanley ‘22 and Musa Ngqungwana ‘14. "Curtis Voices" is a Friday afternoon recital series with Curtis Opera Theatre, with renowned American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski (Opera ’09) performing on Sept. 22. And everyone’s favorite after-opera cabaret, "Late Night Snacks," is back, hosted by The Bearded Ladies and featuring a range of special guests, including award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

Tickets for individual productions and events, as well as 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.). 


10 Days in a Madhouse
Music by Rene Orth | Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch
World Premiere
Co-commissioned & co-produced with Tapestry Opera
Sept. 21, 23, 26, 28, 30
Wilma Theater
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.

Simon Boccanegra
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.

Simon Boccanegra
Verdi’s Simon Boccangera, in a new production from Opéra Royal de Wallonie Liège Credit: Jonathan Berger – Opéra Royal de Wallonie Liège

Unholy Wars
Music by
George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, and Mary Kouyoumdjian
Conceived and performed by Karim Sulayman
Philadelphia Premiere
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.”

Unholy Wars
Tenor Karim Sulayman and dancer Coral Dolphin in Unholy Wars Credit: Leigh Webber


“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.

Performing on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 4:00 p.m. is mezzo-soprano Anne Marie Stanley ‘22, who took First Prize in the 2021Giargiari Bel Canto Competition and performed the role of Olga in the AVA production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in 2022.

Performing on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 4:00 p.m. is South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana ‘14, praised by The New York Times for his “rich, glowing voice and elegant legato.” Opera Philadelphia audiences know him from roles in 2018’s Carmen, and 2013’s Nabucco.

Additional details and repertoire will be announced.

“Curtis Voices”
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. 

On Friday, Sept. 22, at 4:00 p.m., renowned American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski (Opera ’09) returns to Curtis to perform in recital. Acclaimed for her voice of “silvery beauty” (Musical America) and praised as “exquisite” by the Guardian, she made her Opera Philadelphia debut in 2014 as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. 

Performing on Friday, Sept. 29, at 4:00 p.m., are current singers from Curtis Opera Theatre. 

Additional details and repertoire will be announced.


“Late Night Snacks”
Presented in partnership with The Bearded Ladies Cabaret and FringeArts
Sept. 8-Oct. 1 | "The Closet," 201 South Street, Philadelphia

Everyone’s favorite after-opera cabaret is back, hosted by The Bearded Ladies and featuring a range of special guests, including Dynasty Handbag, Le Gateau Chocolat, and an Evening with World Renowned Local Composer Sgt. Jennifer Higdon and Her Lonely Hearts Club Band on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 11:00 p.m. It all comes together for a mixed-plate performance series that’s 50% cabaret destination, 50% neighborhood jawn, and 100% good to the last bite. Tickets will go on sale on Aug. 1 at fringearts.com.

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.

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