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. 

“We’ve worked to bring opera outside the opera house,” said Managing Director Annie Burridge. “Opera’s home is no longer a house.”

“Imagine a 12 day opening night party,” added General Director and President David Devan. “But everyone is invited to the party to discover opera on their own terms.”

The outline for the first O17 festival, scheduled for September 14 through the 25, 2017, presented some interesting performances and initiatives, most notably the welcoming of superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as the festival’s featured artist who will present a recital plus master classes throughout the event. The other major highlight in the international music world will be Barrie Kosky’s mounting of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a production from Komische Oper Berlin, which features giant live-action cartoon projections in the style of 1920’s silent movies.

The company also announced that several world premiere productions will round out the festival, including Elizabeth Cree by Kevin Putts and Mark Campbell and We Shall Not Be Moved, directed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones, plus a production to be announced at the Barnes Foundation.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will also stage a site-specific production of Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda paired with Beecher’s I Have No Stories to Tell You. The combined effort will be titled War Stories.

There’s no doubt that the O17’s goal is to attract people to Philadelphia to quite literally binge watch arias and take part in local commerce: As Burridge suggested, a study found that 20% of the audience from the company’s world premiere production of Yardbird traveled over 70 miles to see the show. As Meryl Levitz, President and CEO of Visit Philadelphia said during her remarks at last evening’s event, “Philadelphia is more than ready for a global close-up.”

The O17 concept has received over $10 million in initial funding from both individual and corporate donors, and festivals are currently in the works for 2018 and 2019. What will be most interesting in the eyes of the classical music world will be the types of artists that the company signs to actually do the singing: Radvanovsky is a huge start, and it will be telling if Opera Philadelphia can get the likes of Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Florez, and Jonas Kaufmann to come to town.

Further details will be announced about the program throughout 2016, and interested guests can find more information on a special website dedicated to the festival.