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 »

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 »

Pavarotti Coming to Prince Theater … Sort Of

Luciano Pavarotti, via Shutterstock

Luciano Pavarotti, via Shutterstock

Some of the biggest names in classical music—the late Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Sondra Radvanovsky, Ekaterina Gubanova—are coming to Philly this fall, at least in digital spirit, as the Prince Theater launches yet another innovative series of programming that will feature big-screen broadcasts of performing arts. Read more »

2015 Pew Grants Announced for Local Artists and Organizations

Cai Gui-Quiang's "Dream." Photo by Tatsumi Masatoshi.

Cai Gui-Quiang’s “Dream.” Photo by Tatsumi Masatoshi.

Over 50 Philadelphia area cultural organizations and artists received grants from The Pew Center for the Arts and Heritage, marking the Center’s 10th year of grant making. Recipients from theater, visual arts, opera, music, dance, and other mediums received more than $9.6 million dollars in grants.

“Our 2015 grantees exemplify the diverse and dynamic cultural life of our region,” says Paula Marincola, the Center’s executive director. “As we reflect on the past 10 years of grant making in this vibrant community, we also look forward to the extraordinary cultural experiences this talented and ambitious group of artists and organizations will bring to Greater Philadelphia’s audiences.” Read more »

Chatting With the Women of YARDBIRD

From left: Chrystal Williams, Rachel Sterrenberg, Angela Mortellaro, and the author.

From left: Chrystal Williams, Rachel Sterrenberg, Angela Mortellaro, and the author.

Rachel Sterrenberg, Chrystal Williams, and Angela Mortellaro all play the wives of the same man in Opera Philadelphia’s upcoming production of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, and before you think that the opera’s drama stems from these three women tearing each other apart on stage over their husband’s infidelities, you ought to do some research on the real Charlie Parker. At least, that’s what these talented singers did before rehearsal.

The opera tells the story of Parker, a celebrated jazz prodigy, who was tortured by his own genius, in a sense. He took a number of wives and lovers, all of whom seemed to provide him with the inspiration that he needed … at the moment.

Read more »

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