Opera on the Mall

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Saturday night, more than 5,000 people filled Independence Park to watch Opera Philadelphia‘s free broadcast of Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

Concertgoers began arriving as early as 4 p.m. to get prime, front-row blanket seats near Chestnut Street where the screen was located. Midway back was the chair section. The entire block was full by the time a screening of the Warner Bros.’ cartoon “Rabbit of Seville” starring Bugs Bunny started at 7 p.m.

Bugs was followed by the The Barber of Seville, which had been recorded live the previous evening. Many of the actors were in the audience, as they had the day off. I learned that opera singers need to rest their voices after a performance, so shows are scheduled every other day.

David Devan, General Director of Opera Philadelphia, told me that this was the fourth annual Opera on the Mall, and it was great opportunity for people to experience an opera if they’d never been to one previously. The Barber of Seville, is playing at the Academy of Music this weekend and there are still tickets available.

Photos from Opera on the Mall »

Out Baritone Jonathan Beyer Talks About His Gay Take on the Academy of Music’s The Barber of Seville

Jonathan Beyer

Jonathan Beyer

Jonathan Beyer met his boyfriend of eight years, Brandon Cedel, when they were both students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. They lived in Center City for a good number of years, where, as Beyer gleefully points out, they were once voted the “cutest couple” in their apartment building.

“We beat out these old grandmas,” he says. Read more »

Why the Jay-Z and Beyonce of Opera Love Philly

Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez

Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez

Hometown superstar tenor Stephen Costello and his remarkable soprano wife, Ailyn Perez, have international opera careers that span the globe. They are both the recipients of the Richard Tucker Award, given to American opera singers who show great potential for a renowned career. They’ll be returning to Philly to perform at Opera Philadelphia‘s 40th Anniversary Gala on September 12th.

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INTERVIEW: Frederica Von Stade Comes to Opera Philadelphia

Frederica Von Stade in "A Coffin in Egypt."

Frederica Von Stade in “A Coffin in Egypt.”

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 CenerentolaIl Barbiere di SivigliaLa 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 »

REVIEW: Opera Philly and the Philadelphia Orchestra Team Up for Salome

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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.

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We Want Answers: David Devan, General Director of Opera Philadelphia

Photograph by Stefan Radke

Photograph by Gene Smirnov

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.

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INTERVIEW: Don Giovanni Star Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson singing "Oberto."

Michelle Johnson singing “Oberto.”

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 hereI 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.

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Opera Philadelphia Announces Ambitious, Star-Studded New Season

david daniels opera

Star countertenor David Daniels will perform the title role in Theodore Morrison’s “Oscar” in February.

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.)

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LGBT Black History Month Spotlight:
7 Questions With Singer Cory O’Neill Walker

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 MusicOpera 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.)

Seven questions with Cory O’Neill Walker after the jump

REVIEW: Opera Philadelphia’s Ainadamar Underwhelms

opera philadelphia ainadmar

Photo by Fernando Daniel Fernandez.

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.

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