To say that the extraordinary Frederica Von Stade (better known to opera fans as Flicka) has had a remarkable career is an understatement: the American mezzo-soprano has performed at nearly all of the world’s leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, the Paris Opera…and the list goes on. Widely acclaimed for her interpretations of both the bel canto and French repertoires, Ms. Von Stade has sung leading roles in La Cenerentola, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Sonnambula, and La Damnation de Faust. Now, Philadelphia audiences will have the chance to see Flicka first-hand in Opera Philadelphia‘s production of A Coffin in Egypt: these performances mark Ms. Von Stade’s Opera Philadelphia debut. I had the pleasure of chatting with Flicka about her legendary career and the future of opera. Read more »
It sounds like a headline ripped from an episode of Nancy Grace or Law and Order: young female necromaniac flaunts her sexuality to get down and dirty with a corpse she’s got the hots for (and you thought opera was boring). But, in essence, that pretty much captures the plot of Strauss’s Salome, which, in it’s sold-out staging at the Kimmel Center, marks the first collaboration between The Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia. The production, which opened Thursday evening, features many solid moments, but the highlight clearly is the daunting performances of Camilla Nylund and Alan Held who play the title character and her soon-to-be dead lover, respectively.
Earlier this season, you hosted a “Tweet at the Opera” experiment and something called a “Robot Opera.” Do you worry that any of this stuff is going to look gimmicky? No, not at all. I mean, we’re not doing the “tweet seats” to be gimmicky. We are trying to do new things. We do them in a controlled way — the “tweet seats” were a section. We weren’t trying to get a headline out of it. We weren’t trying to be notorious. We wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t disrupt patrons … and we were successful in doing that.
Your predecessor, Robert Driver, was once flagellated with a newspaper by a grumpy old patron unhappy with his attempts to innovate. Are you getting whacked, proverbially or literally, by more conservative opera-goers? No, I am not getting whacked by newspapers, frying pans or any other household objects from more traditional patrons. I think the reason is that we have been very respectful in our approach to innovation. The tweet seats are a great example. If you’re a 20-year subscriber and you don’t own a smartphone, you didn’t even know they were there.
When you first meet Philadelphia-based soprano Michelle Johnson you can’t help but notice her infectious personality. Perhaps that, along with her extensive training at Philly’s own Academy of Vocal Arts, has made her one of the most celebrated opera singers in the region. Johnson has won nearly a dozen vocal competitions (including the prestigious grand prize in the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions) but this down-to-Earth diva keeps a grounded approach to her own work.
You can catch her starting tonight in Opera Philadelphia‘s production of Don Giovanni, but first, get to know her right here. I had the pleasure of catching up with Johnson in the midst of her rehearsals for Giovanni. We talked about her remarkable career thus far, the real “problem” behind shows like American Idol, and what jealous Puccini diva she’s just dying to play.
Opera Philadelphia’s 40th anniversary repertoire, announced earlier this week, is the company’s most ambitious and star-studded to date. Some of opera’s most well-known singers will be performing in the City of Brotherly Love as part of the five-production 2014-2015 season.
It is one of the first times in recent history that Opera Philadelphia has attracted internationally known and acclaimed performers to its stages at the Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts — it’s not every day that Philadelphia audiences are treated to the likes of David Daniels (who many would contend is the world’s leading operatic countertenor), Lawrence Brownlee (an internationally known bel canto specialist, although he won’t be performing from that repertoire in Philly), and Eric Owens (a Philadelphia native whose bass-baritone has been heard at opera houses the world over.)
In partnership with Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, every day throughout the month of February we will spotlight an influential black mover and shaker in the city.
Today: The gifted Cory O’Neill Walker, a recent Philly transplant who has dazzled his way into the local art scene as a singer, actor, designer, composer and all-around lovely spirit. Locally, Cory performs regularly with the Network for New Music, Opera Philadelphia, and The Mendelssohn Club Chorus, but he may be most recognizable for his recent Fringe Festival offerings L’Heure Exquise and Cupids’s Little Prick. Last year he founded Philly’s Artsong Repertory Theater Company (ARTCy), a project that seeks to bring obscure pieces of classical music to the masses. And heads up to any of you aspiring songbirds: He also runs a vocal studio where he teaches people to sing anything from opera to pop to jazz. (Full disclosure: I took lessons from him last year, and would recommend him in a heartbeat.)
Five actors shoot three characters at point-blank range on a stage. Then the executioners break into a choreographed flamenco number immediately after, firing their guns to the beat of the music.
You might think I’m describing some sort of variation on the “Springtime for Hitler” sequence in Mel Brook’s The Producers, where we are supposed to laugh at the absurdly developed (on purpose, mind you) theatrical production about the Nazi regime.
But you’d be wrong.
Yes, I was one of the philistines who Tweeted during the opera Friday night. No, I don’t really have any regrets.
Cell phone usage and high art usually don’t mix — that is, unless you wish to be a patron of the “wanna-be-so-edgy-it-hurts” Opera Philadelphia. Last week, the company announced that select sections of the audience can live-tweet during the opening-night performance of its latest production, Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears. Its website literally bills the event as follows: “Ever wanted to break the ‘please turn off your cellphones’ rule at the Academy of Music? Here is your chance!”
Opera Philadelphia: What the hell is this?
Or, perhaps, I should rephrase that: @OperaPhila, what the #hell is this? #opera #amateurhour
There’s no doubt Opera Philadelphia has been trying to re-define itself as a relevant artistic company, not only in the city, but in the opera scene nationally and internationally. The company’s name change, from Opera Company of Philadelphia to its current title in 2013, was a clear enough indication of some sort of shift in artistic and public perception.