O Festival Diary—Day V: The Wake World Is O17’s Glamorous Swan Song

Maeve Höglund in The Wake World at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

A tragic realization hit me as I waited for the start of David Hertzberg’s dense, maddening, but also sometimes breathtakingly lovely opera, The Wake World: I am neither as fabulous nor as intelligent as I like to think I am. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day IV, Part II: War Stories

War Stories at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

At the core of War Stories, a provocative pairing of two works (one Baroque, one contemporary), is a haunting new opera by Lembit Beecher, which receives its world premiere here in O17.  The title is ironic—I Have No More Stories to Tell You is, in fact, full of disquieting story fragments, drawn from lived experience as well as terrified reliving. Set in the present, war dominates the lives of three character, most of all Sorrell, a female soldier now back at home and suffering from PTSD. At night, she lies in bed—though her husband tries to help her, she is largely beyond comfort.  Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day IV, Part I: Sondra Radvanovsky in Recital


Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s
Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

A recital is not an opera, but let’s not get too sniffy. O17 is wisely embracing a wide range of musical experiences, and even the Met does the occasional recital. More important, stars are and have always been a major component of opera, and recitals can be an avenue to bring in high-wattage glamour that might not otherwise be available.

Glamour is something Sondra Radvanovsky certainly provided. In two gowns—one midnight blue-and-black, the other green, each with dramatic jewelry to match—she looked every inch the gorgeous diva, but her friendly, even self-effacing manner (she apologized for relying on a music stand, but she’s in the midst of Norma rehearsals at the Met) instantly won over the audience. Anthony Manoli was her supportive pianist. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day III: We Shall Not Be Moved

Lauren Whitehead in We Shall Not Be Moved at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

We Shall Not Be Moved is another world premiere—yet it will be chillingly resonant to Philadelphians old enough to remember the source material. I arrived here in 1990, five years after the MOVE bombings and fire that destroyed a neighborhood—but the incident still dominated conversation and the general political landscape. My office was just a couple of miles away, something I thought about often. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day II: In O17’s Die Zauberflöte, the Magic is in the Technology

Rachel Sterrenberg and Jarrett Ott in Die Zauberflote at the O Festival. (Photo by Steven Pisano)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before, with O17—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

Another day, another challenge. Last night, I gave a quick and enthusiastic response to Elizabeth Cree, a world premiere work I’d never heard before. Tonight brought the comfort of familiarity, with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in Opera Philadelphia’s home theater, the Academy of Music. This time, at least I’m on terra cognita—in fact, I taught the opera last week as part of a musical theater course.

Still, there’s nothing simple about Zauberflöte, which despite its fairy-tale tone dwells in ambiguities and big, dark questions. The musical demands are formidable. But it’s a great choice for O17, as the mythical setting (usually a fantastic take on ancient Egypt) lends itself to imaginative rethinking. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day I: Elizabeth Cree

Daniela Mack and Troy Cook in Elizabeth Cree at the O Festival. (Photo by Steve Pisano)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

And so it begins—with an ominous tolling bell, and a death sentence. Well, it’s an opera, after all. But any sense that Elizabeth Cree will be predictable vanishes almost instantly. This world premiere by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, moves across an astonishingly varied dramatic terrain. There’s a little Jack the Ripper, a dash of All About Eve, a touch of Lizzie Borden… and all of this framed by Victorian music hall merriment. Did I mention that there’s also discussion of the Golem of Hebrew legend? Oh, and Karl Marx shows up for a while. Read more »

The O17 Festival Makes the City its Stage

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack in Elizabeth Cree. (Steve Pisano)

Opera fans have had September 14 circled on their calendars for months. (Sure they still use paper calendars. They’re old-school.) That’s the start of O17, an ambitious multi-opera, multi-venue festival staged by Opera Philadelphia.

Starting today and continuing through September 25, O17 offers an impressive lineup of old favorites and new standouts:

Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Le Nozze di Figaro — 231 Years Old, and Sassier Than Ever

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Some days, I think the Act II finale of Le Nozze di Figaro is not only the greatest 20 minutes of music ever written, but also the greatest theater. I’m hardly a lone voice here—if there’s universal agreement about anything operatic, it could be that Mozart’s setting of Beaumarchais’ play is as close to perfect as art gets. And at 231 years old, it’s fresher, sassier, and more dazzling than ever.

What’s more controversial is how to do it. Is the emphasis comedic, or sentimental?… or, for that matter, politically pointed and angry? Should Figaro productions retain its 18th Century setting, or update it?  And we haven’t even touched on questions of musical style (Fast or Slow? To ornament, or not to ornament?). So, you see, there isn’t only one Figaro—there are many, and it’s reborn in each performance. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Tancredi had Pomp, Circumstance, and a Whole Lot of Voice

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Stephanie Blythe in Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

There’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned pleasures.

Opera Philadelphia’s Tancredi was a throwback on several levels—starting with the work itself, one of Rossini’s first major successes. Tancredi’s plot (a political power struggle/star-crossed romance, set in the Byzantine Empire) and its rather sequential, stately dramatic structure are representative of early 18th Century style. Storytelling in opera would grow more nuanced and fluid over the next hundred years, but Rossini knew the power of virtuoso music—arias, duets, ensembles—to thrill an audience.  A similar sense excitement was very much present here at the Academy of Music. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Turandot — A Wild, Multicultural Ride

Christine Goerke in Opera Philadelphia's Turandot. (Kelly & Massa Photography)

Christine Goerke in Opera Philadelphia’s Turandot. (Kelly & Massa Photography)

Opera Philadelphia’s opening week is globe-trotting and time-traveling.  Breaking the Waves, their world-premiere production, takes place in a grim Scottish town in the 1970s. Verdi’s Macbeth resets the action to contemporary Africa.

In between is Turandot, Puccini’s beloved final opera, left unfinished at the time of his death in 1924. Turandot takes place in ancient Peking — make that ancient Peking, as adapted from an 18th century Italian play, influenced by 16th century commedia dell’arte, and set to music by an early 20th century composer (also Italian) with a 19th century sensibility. Read more »

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