Opera Philadelphia

22 Reasons to be excited about O22

By Opera Philadelphia

Festival O is back! Following three years of innovation, world premieres, and international acclaim, the Festival had a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2020 and 2021. But O22 returns with the grand opera, the array of talent, the artistic collaborations Festival attendees have come to know and love, along with a dose of inspiration from lockdown and the explosion of opera films.

Why should you be excited about O22? Here are 22 reasons...


1) The Rossini tenor of his generation debuts his 18th role in Otello

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee has built an international reputation as one of the great Rossini tenors of his generation, having debuted roles at prestigious opera houses all over the world, including the Metropolitan Opera. When he steps on the stage of the Academy of Music as Rodrigo, it will mark the 18th Rossini role debut of his career. Listen to a preview of his vocal pyrotechnics...


2) It's the U.S. debut of Khanyiso Gwenxane, a young South African tenor 

While Brownlee is a master of the Rossini repertoire, the young tenor singing the title role in Otello has been singing professionally for fewer than six years. Khanyiso Gwenxane, who has impressed audiences in Germany, Sweden, and Italy, comes to the U.S. for the first time to perform the title role of Festival O’s main event production. 

Khanyiso Gwenxane
Daniela & Alek

3) Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader are back on stage together

Opera Philadelphia regulars Daniela Mack (Carmen, Semele) and Alek Shrader (La traviata, Semele) are back on stage together in Otello. The married opera singers were last here performing in Semele, part of Festival O19. Mack performs the role of Desedemona, key role amplified in director Emilio Sagi’s new production, while Shrader is the vengeful Iago. Read more about they balance opera and family in this blog post from 2019>>

4) Oh, and you can still see Alek Shrader in La traviata, because it's streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel. 

The Festival and live performances are back, but you can still watch archival and filmed productions on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, along with our free Reflection & Re-Vision series and more. Watch here>>


5) Quoth the Raven, more please!  

The company premiere of composer Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven, a monodrama inspired by both the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe and the supernatural elements of Noh theater, is the hardest ticket to get as we approach Festival O. With performances selling out and Opera Philadelphia working to make more seats available, director Aria Umezawa, conductor Eiki Isomura, and mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi prepare to bring the performance to the Miller Theater, where audiences will join them on stage. But first… 



6) Opera goes interactive, Obviously  

Before taking their seats on the stage of the Miller Theater for The Raven, audiences will plumb the facets of Poe’s verse as they travel through the theater with a performer as their guide. A collaboration between director Aria Umezawa and the Philadelphia-based Obvious Agency.

“Each pathway that the audience might go on will be a different version of this experience, a different artists’ take … that will then inform how they are seeing the opera,” says Obvious Agency co-founder Joseph Ahmed. 

7) Did you say Kristen Choi?

Yes, Kristen Choi, who earned rave reviews for her Maddalena in Rigoletto this spring, is back for The Raven. It's actually her third appearance with Opera Philadelphia in the past year – her first was in Rene Orth and Kanika Ambrose's TakTakShoo, which fused K-pop, opera, and dance and, lucky for you, is still streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel! Watch here>>

8) Opera inspired by Twin Peaks and Naked Lunch, executive produced by a member of Sonic Youth 

The inspirations and collaborations surrounding composer David T. Little’s Black Lodge, produced by Beth Morrison Projects, qualify as “not typical for opera.” The composer, librettist Anne Waldman, and director Michael Joseph McQuilken cite the disturbing and complicated mythologies of the surrealist writer William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch) and David Lynch’s cult TV classic Twin Peaks as inspirations, and renowned musician Thurston Moore, known as a member of Sonic Youth, serves as executive producer of Black Lodge. "This is opera ripping through the fabric of future vision psychosis where the integrity of classic form clasps the hands of radical possibilities," said Moore.

Timur & the Dime Museum

9) What is a dark glam opera band? 

The vocal star of Black Lodge is Timur, a classically trained opera singer who also fronts a rocking LA-based band. Called a “punk-operatic spectacle”by the LA Times, the self-described “dark glam opera band Timur and the Dime Museum was born to fuse sounds with fierceness and theatricality.Have a listen>>

10) Audio Description and ACCESS increase accessibility

Audio Describer Nicole Sardella is back for live performances of The Raven (Sept. 29), Otello (Sept. 30), and Black Lodge (October 2). Plus, our partnership with Art-Reach and their ACCESS program means those from a low-income household or household with disabilities can get $2 tickets to O22 performances. Learn more about accessibility>>

Audio Description
Storybook Hour

11) There are free story hours for kids! 

Opera Storybook Time on both September 24 and October 1 at 10:30 a.m. will tell the story of Philadelphia-born contralto Marian Anderson with readings of When Marian Sang. To really bring the story to life, the Marian Anderson Historical Society and Museum will display items of Marian’s including letters, dresses, and sheet music.

12) Stars return to their Philly roots  

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. AVA trains artists with the high potential for career success while enriching lives in Philadelphia and beyond. As part of O22, singers trained at AVA perform in two Saturday afternoon recitals at their historic and intimate concert hall, headlined by graduates André Courville (AVA ’17) and Latonia Moore (AVA ’04).

Latonia Moore
Latonia Moore
André Courville
André Courville

13) Some tasty Late Night Snacks  

A mixed-plate performance that’s 50% cabaret destination, 50% neighborhood jawn, and 100% good to the last bite, Late Night Snacks is a monthlong cabaret series that unites Festival O22 with the 2022 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Created by Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the series features different artists every night — from opera singers to drag queens, cabaret stars to art clowns, and everything in between. Get a taste>>

Late Night Snacks

14) Opera on Film: Temporary Trend or Here to Stay? 

Since 2020, we have witnessed an unprecedented period of creativity and flexibility in the opera industry, as our inability to gather on stage due to the pandemic spawned tremendous operatic film experimentation. Opera on Film explores some of the cinematic opera generated as audience and creators pivoted to video, as well as some opera classics, with more than 30 opera films over six days at the Philadelphia Film Center. 

15) A museum-quality work of art in Opera on Film

William Kentridge is a renowned South African artist, filmmaker, and director whose works are held in the collections The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate Gallery in London, and private collections around the work. His 2020 film Sibyl, which centers an operatic score, makes its world theatrical premiere in the Opera on Film series. Learn more about it>> 

16) Please hold, we’re getting another call  

Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play consisting of a woman engaged in a final phone conversation with her lover inspired two films released within months of one another in 2020-2021, and they are brought together for the first time in Festival O22. James Darrah’s 2021 La voixhumainestarring Patricia Racette is paired with Pedro Almódovar’s 2020 The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton. 

This isn't Tilda Swinton's first work in Festival O – you may remember this joyful film of her dogs leaping in tune to Anthony Roth Costanzo's voice in Glass Handel.


17) Revisiting Beyoncé’s film debut  

In 2001, Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle) directed this MTV adaptation of Georges Bizet's Carmen, quoting from the classic opera’s music and melding it with a new hip-hop score performed by a cast of recording artists including Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, Lil' Bow Wow, Da Brat, Rah Digga, and Beyoncé Knowles in her acting debut as Carmen. Set in Philadelphia, with Mekhi Phifer also starring as Philly cop Derek Hill (an update of DonJosé), the film debuted to mixed reviews. Two decades later, it has a loyal fanbase thanks to its provocative exploration of hip hop on an operatic scale, called “fun and fascinating to watch because of its intelligent direction and heartfelt performances at its core” (The Spool). 

18) Sasha Velour is back!

The Island We Made, from Angélica Negrón, Matthew Placek, and Sasha Velour was a runaway hit on the Opera Philadelphia Channel. It's been almost a year since it came off the Channel, so we are extra excited to bring it back, on the big screen, as part of Opera on Film

19) A GRAMMY nominee gets its big screen moment 

Opera Philadelphia’s innovative 2021 film of David T. Little’s opera Soldier Songs, directed by and starring Johnathan McCullough, was a true melding of opera and film. It made headlines in the New York Times and was nominated for a GRAMMY. Now, it gets its big screen moment on the opening night of Opera on Film.

Soldier Songs
Mr. Chips

20) Hello, Mr. Chips!  

James Hilton’s popular 1934 novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips tells the story of a teacher at Brookfield, an all-boys English boarding school to which “Chips” dedicates most of his adult life. Immortalized in several film adaptations, with Robert Donat winning a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Chips in the 1939 film, the story became an opera in 2021 with music by composer Gordon Getty and a charming lead performance by tenor Nathan Granner. It receives its Philadelphia premiere on Oct. 2 as the closing screening of the Opera on Film series. 

21) A free choral concert in a historic church

Postponed in May, For the Beauty of the Earth is back on the schedule, and the good news is it is now part of the Festival! Join the women of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus and narrator Cookie Diorio for a celebration of words and music coming together into the magic of song at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church. Learn more>>

Choral Concert

22) A tasty blend of hops and opera  

One of the more unique and fun aspects of each Festival O is the release of an opera-themed beer sold at each festival venue. This year’s beer is Hopera Philadelphia, a hazy IPA created in collaboration with Conshohocken Brewing Company. Sales of Hopera Philadelphia will benefit and raise awareness for Opera Philadelphia’s programs, making it a beer with a mission! 

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