REVIEW: Cold Mountain at Opera Philadelphia

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in "Cold Mountain."

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in Cold Mountain.

Most of the characters in Jennifer Higdon‘s first opera want to return to the literal Cold Mountain. However, at the end of the nearly three-hour show, which had its East Coast premiere with Opera Philadelphia on Friday evening, you’re left to wonder why. There’s no doubt that this operatic adaptation of the classic novel-turned-film sparks some sparks with a fabulous cast, but the overall pacing of the production makes you feel like you’ve been physically fighting in the drawn-out American Civil War depicted in the opera.

Part of that may very well have to do with the scope of narrative that’s trying to be covered here, told through a series of interconnected scenes and flashbacks. It’s almost too much: Gene Scheer‘s libretto is heavy and often times puts unneeded weight on both the action and the singers. The first act of Cold Mountain suffers tremendously from this, as the one huge stationary set piece (which eerily looks like the barricades from Les Miserables) doesn’t allow for the action to move beyond a small playing area.

Higdon’s score, while complex, layered, and interesting, often fell victim on Friday night to conductor Corrado Rovaris. The orchestra severely overpowered the singers, especially in act one, and there were multiple times when the top-notch performers could hardly be heard over the pit. Read more »

Isabel Leonard: Philly’s “It Girl” For 2016

Photo: Becca Fay

Photo: Becca Fay

Before the lights come up at some of the world’s biggest opera houses, you can hear Isabel Leonard‘s voice backstage. But you won’t catch her singing a tune from her wide classical repertoire, ranging from Mozart to Poulenc. She’s singing lullabies to her son over the phone.

“My son is older now and his new question is, ‘Mama, when are you gonna stay at home and work here forever?'” Leonard told me. “It’s like someone stabs me with a knife! I think he gets that Mama has to work. If you were to ask me what the most important thing in my life is, I’d say it’s my son and my work, because work is how I can give everything to my son.” Read more »

15 Outstanding Philly Arts Moments in 2015

Ticket arts writers weigh in on what they think are the most important local arts moments of 2015. 

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Lisette Oropesa’s in Opera Philly’s “Traviata”

Brava, Diva!

It’s been a banner year generally for Opera Philadelphia, but Lisette Oropesa’s Violetta in Traviata (her first performance of the role) was special. The beautiful young soprano met every vocal demand — fiendishly difficult as they may have been – and acted it superbly. Opera lovers around the world pay attention to debuting Violettas – the great ones are so rare. Here in Philly, we found one. —David Fox

Philadelphia Film Society Saves the Prince

The gorgeous Prince Theater seemed to be in quite a bit of limbo: The resident production company had vacated a number of years ago, and their presentations were random at best. With PFS purchasing the building, the theater has becoming a bustling hub not only for movies (it’s now the only mainstream movie theater in Center City) but performing arts, and their Razz Room is hosting some of the hottest NYC cabaret acts around. —Bryan Buttler

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Opera Philadelphia to Make Historic Apollo Theater Debut

Lawrence Brownlee

Lawrence Brownlee

Today’s historic announcement by Opera Philadelphia may be, by far, a much more significant one than their heavily publicized O17 festival: They’ll be bringing the first ever opera to the stages of the acclaimed Apollo Theater in New York City.

And it’s lead character is a man of color. So are the vast majority of the singers, a rarity when even productions of Otello and Aida often times employ non-black actors to take on leading roles. Read more »

Opera Philadelphia Takes Multi-Million-Dollar Risk On O17 Urban Opera Festival

O17's Festival Artist, Sondra Radvanovsky

O17’s Festival Artist, Sondra Radvanovsky

Any opera company that says it’s trying to emulate Netflix is taking a risk, and that’s exactly what Opera Philadelphia announced last evening during a much-publicized press event.

The organization is launching a 12-day urban opera festival, O17, that has a signature catch phrase: Opera is now open. The goal is to essentially break down the perceived barriers associated with the art form, and to draw large audiences throughout the city to “binge watch” opera for two weeks at the Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Wilma Theater, amongst other locations.  Read more »

REVIEW: Opera Philadelphia’s La Traviata

A scene from "La Traviata."

A scene from “La Traviata.”

The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Lisette Oropesa … or, at least, she’s the name on everybody’s lips who sat through Friday night’s opening performance of Opera Philadelphia’s La Traviata.

In fact, Ms. Oropesa, the dramatic soprano who stars in the staging at the Academy of Music, brings so much gusto, so much soul to her Violetta, that it is sort of a miracle that the entire stage doesn’t blow up at the end of the three-hour show. Yes, she’s that good, and I’ve never seen an Opera Philadelphia audience react with such fervor to a performer in recent memory. Read more »

INTERVIEW: Opera Philadelphia’s Down-To-Earth Diva Lisette Oropesa

Lisette O

When Lisette Oropesa started studying to play Verdi’s tragic heroine Violetta in La Traviata for Opera Philadelphia, she read the book-turned-play The Lady of the Camellias, which is the source material for Traviata. It’s based loosely on a real story, and it didn’t do much for Oropesa’s nerves.

“It was depressing as can be,” she recalled. “I couldn’t do anything with the role for three months. It was miserable and disgusting.”

But there was another layer to Oropesa’s emotional journey to master Violetta: Her mother, an opera singer herself, has performed the role for years. It was literally in her blood. Read more »

Opera Philadelphia Has Found Its Queer Beard

John Jarboe

John Jarboe

“I bought some nail polish, so if you’re stressed, you can do your hands and do your toes.”

This is what Opera Philadelphia‘s newest director said to his cast before a tech rehearsal. He’s dressed in camouflage cargo shorts, green sneakers, and a silver and white iridescent sparkly tank top. He indeed took his own advice: His nails were painted and very glittery.

This doesn’t sound like the typical director that a major opera company would hire to mount the start of their season, but one might argue that Opera Philadelphia isn’t typical. John Jarboe is the nail polish-donning man at the helm of the company’s first show of the year, ANDY: A Popera, based loosely on the life of Andy Warhol.

Now, that’s gay.

The artistic director of the popular avant-garde queer cabaret cohort, The Bearded Ladies, Jarboe makes no qualms what he thinks about those patrons who might not be thrilled with Opera Philadelphia’s choice of staging a new opera in a warehouse in the middle of Northern Liberties. Read more »

25 Gay Things to Do in Philly This September

Madonna is headed to the City of Brotherly Love this month. Photo via Shutterstock.

Madonna is headed to the City of Brotherly Love this month. Photo via Shutterstock.

The Pope who? There’s a lot more going on in Philadelphia this September besides a visit from the Vatican. We rounded up 25 LGBT events, shows, and minglers that will keep you busy during back to school season.

Faced with Discrimination Photobooth: Equality Pennsylvania is teaming up with the William Way Community Center for this free event where guests can take a picture and describe why discrimination is a problem that isn’t just theoretical. Thursday, September 3rd, 11 am, free, William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street

Sharon Needles: The RuPaul icon “with the look of a cover model and the soul of a shoe” will be at Kung Fu Necktie for a one-nigh only show, featuring the Haus of Ham and The Homophones. Thursday, September 3rd, 7 pm, $20-50, Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 North Front Street

FringeArts Festival 2015: There’s so many queer performances at this year’s FringeArts Fest that we’d be here all day if we listed all of them: everything from You Are the Hero to Not For Profit to Growing Into My Beard. In short, there’s something for everyone. Opens Thursday, September 3rd, various times, prices, and locations
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David Devan and the Future of Opera in Philadelphia

David Devan on-set inside the Academy of Music. “We need to be inventive,” he says, “and we’re in the city that invented America.” Photograph by Chris Crisman

David Devan on-set inside the Academy of Music. “We need to be inventive,” he says, “and we’re in the city that invented America.” Photograph by Chris Crisman

“Toi toi toi!”

It’s the opera equivalent of “break a leg,” and David Devan is saying it to everyone in sight as he darts around the bowelsof the Academy of Music like a squirrel. No one seems to know the phrase’s origin, but everyone says it right back, despite the fact that it sounds like a toddler reaching up from his playpen and begging for his rattle. Devan dashes off again — David Devan does a lot of dashing — and as the clock ticks toward eight o’clock this opening night, he’s up-down, up-down, up-down the curving back staircases of the Academy, squeezing in every last air-kiss and hug and look of delighted surprise, the kind good hostesses give at dinner parties when you bring the right bottle of wine. Read more »

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