BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18
Marietta Simpson and Frederica von Stade of
SKY ON SWINGS. Photo: Dominic M. Mercier

You can't accuse Opera Philadelphia's O18 Festival--running September 20-30 at various city venues--of being predictable. But no one would chastise you if you were to think: How do you follow-up what seems like a once-in-a-lifetime event, last year's O17?

A year ago, Opera Philadelphia premiered its first opera festival and it dazzled. There was THE MAGIC FLUTE, in a spellbinding production that came from Berlin and a recital by the remarkable soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, fresh off her triumph at the Met in the Donizetti Queens trio.

But the real thing that put it on the map, for me at least, were the new works: the thrilling ELIZABETH CREE from Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell (Pultizer Prize winners for SILENT NIGHT), the enchanting THE WOKE WORLD by David Hertzberg, the devastating WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED by Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, directed by Bill T. Jones, and the local premiere of the moving I HAVE NO STORIES TO TELL YOU by Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moskovitch, part of a double bill about war with Monteverdi's IL COMBATTIMENTO DI TANCREDI E CLORINDA.

Okay. But what about this year? As Monty Python used to say, "And now for something completely different."

Things start out on September 20 with the world premiere of another work from Beecher and Moskovitch, SKY ON SWINGS, a chamber opera that, according to the composer, is as much about love as it is about Alzheimer's disease and stars the legendary Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson. Joanne Settles directs.

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18
LUCIA's Brenda Rae

And on the standard repertoire side, there's a brand new production of Donizetti's LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR from Laurent Pelly--responsible for the Met's recent CENDRILLON, LA FILLE DU REGIMENT and MANON--whose ideas about staging and designing operas are anything but traditional. (LUCIA is shared with the Vienna State Opera, where it will go in February.)

Then the festival starts turning things on their ears.

NE QUITTEZ PAS: A REIMAGINED LA VOIX HUMAINE, a showcase for the remarkable soprano Patricia Racette, is a new production combines two genres with which she's quite familiar: dramatic opera and cabaret. It's a site-specific performance that's being staged at the Theatre of the Living Arts on South Street, which dates from the early 1900s when it was a nickelodeon, it became a concert venue in 1988.

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18
Patricia Racette is Poulenc's "Elle (She)."

Before settling in to the drama of the Francis Poulenc-Jean Cocteau LA VOIX HUMAINE (the composer called it 'a musical confession'), the evening starts out with a set of French art songs. James Darrah--who did the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli-Royce Vavrek's BREAKING THE WAVES--directs.

GLASS HANDEL is another world premiere for the festival--a mash-up of Handel and Philip Glass that will take place at the Barnes Foundation.

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18
Painting of Anthony Roth
Costanzo by George Condo.

Created by star countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and NYC luxury art & fashion company Visionaire, it's an operatic art installation with choreography by Justin Peck (Tony award winner for Broadway's CAROUSEL). It has live painting by George Condo, costumes by Calvin Klein's Raf Simons and videos by James Ivory, among others.

QUEENS OF THE NIGHT, also at the Theatre of the Living Arts, combines "pomp, pageantry, & bawdy ballads" in highly improvised three-night serial, cohosted by Blythely Oratonio (the magnificent Stephanie Blythe) and Martha Graham Cracker (nom-de-drag of Dito van Reigersberg, who has been called " the world's tallest and hairiest drag queen"), along with a few special guests. This highly improvisational, three-night serial expands upon the 2017 genre- and gender-bending caba-play DITO & AENEAS: TWO QUEENS, ONE NIGHT. that expands on 2017 genre- and gender-bending caba-play DITO & AENEAS: TWO QUEENS, ONE NIGHT.

BWW Preview: Same Time, This Year - I'd Still Rather Be at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O18
WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED will be screened
free on the Mall. Photo: Dave DiRentis

This year's edition of Opera Philadelphia's annual OPERA ON THE MALL viewings is a free screening of last year's brilliant opera WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED, which combines spoken word, contemporary movement, video projection, classical, R&B and jazz singing, a brooding but often joyful score. A timely exploration of past and present struggles through eyes of its young protagonists. (Independence National Historical Park; Sept. 29)

Finally, for a look at the performers of the future, there are FRIDAYS AT FIELD, performed at Field Concert Hall. It features members of the Emerging Artists Program from Curtis Institute of Music in recital.

For more information and tickets--and some things are already sold out--please see Opera Philadelphia's website.

Here's a brief calendar of the performances:

SKY ON SWINGS, Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center; Sept. 20, 22, 25, 27, 29 LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Academy of Music; Sept. 21, 23, 26, 28, 30
NE QUITTEZ PAS: A REIMAGINED LA VOIX HUMAINE, Theatre of Living Arts; Sept. 22, 23, 27, 29, 30
GLASS HANDEL, Barnes Foundation; Sep 22, 23, 30
QUEENS OF THE NIGHT, Theatre of Living Arts; Sep 24, 25, 28
OPERA ON THE MALL (WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED), free, Independence National Historical Park, Sept. 29
FRIDAYS AT FIELD, Field Concert Hall; Sept. 21, 28

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow has been BroadwayWorld.com's Opera Editor for more than four years, with interests covering contemporary works, standard repertoire and true rarities from every era. He is an interviewer of important musical figures on the current scene--from singers Diana Damrau, Peter Mattei and Angela Meade to Pulitzer Prize winning composer Kevin Puts, librettist Mark Campbell and director Kevin Newbury.

Earlier in his career, he interviewed such great singers as Birgit Nilsson and Martina Arroyo and worked on the first US tour of the Vienna State Opera, with Karl Bohm, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein, and the inaugural US tour of the Orchestre National de France, with Bernstein and Lorin Maazel.

Sasanow is also a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others.