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:

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36 Ways to Dodge the NFL Draft This Weekend

Tania Isaac performs at FringeArts this weekend. (LBrowning Photography)

Tania Isaac performs at FringeArts Friday and Saturday. (LBrowning Photography)

FRIDAY, APRIL 28

Star Party @ The Mann
This sounds pretty cool: a free concert and stargazing get-together at the Mann featuring telescopes and astronomers who know where to point them. The current forecast for tonight is “partly cloudy,” so fingers x’d. Part of Science Fest.

Hot Chip (DJ Set) @ Coda
Alexis Taylor and Felix Martin of the band Hot Chip spin records because they’re DJs, too.

Spirit of the Beehive @ Everybody Hits
Idiosyncratic indie rockers Spirit of the Beehive celebrate the release of Pleasure Suck in their hometown. Actually, “idiosyncratic” doesn’t cover it. This band seems to be infected with a rare strain of deep-tissue, Philly-borne weirdness once fleetingly observed in bands like Man Man and Echo Orbiter. It’s not just a sound, it’s an aesthetic illness that prizes catchiness and freakiness equally. This is beautiful mutant rock ’n’ roll. Read more »

Opera Philadelphia is All About the Ladies Next Season

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

The big news from today’s 2016-17 season announcement from Opera Philadelphia is pretty simple: It’s all about the ladies.

In fact, when browsing the full lineup for the upcoming year, the three main highlights can easily be boiled down to Opera Philadelphia’s casting of two superstar singers for 2016 and 2017, plus the premiere of a female composer’s new work. Here’s a breakdown of the leading ladies that will be taking center stage:

Christine GoerkeThe soprano caused quite a stir back in 2013 when she appeared as Die Färberin in the Met Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, garnering massive critical acclaim which led the company to sign her as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle during the 2018-19 season at the New York venue. Goerke won’t be singing Wagner while in Philly, but she will star as the title role in Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, at the Academy of Music, September 23-October 2.

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REVIEW: Manon Lescaut is a Triumph

Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna in Puccini's "Manon Lescaut". Photo: Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna in Manon Lescaut. Photo: Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

Sometimes there is an opera staging that is so artistically sound that lovers of the art form can take a deep breath and think, “We’re okay!” Sir Richard Eyre’s luscious new production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which opened at the Met Opera on Friday evening, is one of those moments.

The icing on the cake for local opera fans is that the staging will be broadcast live on March 5 at a host of Philly-area movie theaters for those who can’t make the trip to New York (the list is below), although you really ought to grab a train or a bus and catch the gorgeous soprano Kristine Opolais and her dashing co-star Roberto Alagna in-person. Read more »

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 »

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 »

17 Things to Do in Philly This Week



REVIEW: Yannick Nézet-Séguin Soars in Met Opera’s New Otello

Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role and Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello". Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role and Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello.” Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

Philadelphia sent a little touch of star quality to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera to lead the large-scale musical forces in a new production of Verdi’s Otello, which opened the company’s season last evening. Philadelphia Orchestra’s Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has been widely regarded as one of the Met’s greatest conductors, brought an immense amount of control throughout Verdi’s challenging score in Bartlett Sher‘s dark production. In that sense, our Philly hometown hero was one of the stars of the night.

Sure, it is a little strange to start off a review of an opera by talking about the conductor, but Nezet-Seguin’s ability to lead a tight interpretation of Verdi’s work is extraordinary. But, then again, he had the remarkable talents of the Met’s orchestra and the amazing Met chorus, who both provided an inspired performance. Read more »

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