BWW Preview: All Things Considered, I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia, at the O17 Opera Festival
There are opera festivals and then there are OPERA FESTIVALS, but none that promise to be the equivalent of Opera Philadelphia's O17, which opens on September 14 for a 12-day run. It combines a dazzling array of the old and new, the well-known and emerging, being produced at prestigious venues around the city, at the Academy of Music, the Perelman and the Wilma Theatres as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. There's even a screening in Independence Park of a highlight from last season.
It combines a trio of brand-new works (ELIZABETH CREE, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED and THE WAKE WORLD), written by the well known (CREE's Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell of the Pulitzer prize winning SILENT NIGHT) and the up and coming (WAKE's composer-librettist David Hertzberg and WE SHALL NOT's Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph). There's also the local premiere of something old-something new (WAR STORIES, combining Monteverdi's IL COMBATTIMENTO DI TANCREDI E CLORINDA with the Lembit Beecher-Hannah Moscovitch I HAVE NO STORIES TO TELL YOU, which debuted at NY's Met Museum in 2014). Top it off with a couple of Mozarts: the East Coast premiere of a wild and unusual production of THE MAGIC FLUTE that's been seen and heard elsewhere to great acclaim and that outdoor screening of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO mentioned earlier.
Then there are the stars: Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (who will open the Met's season at the end of September with NORMA) will be heard in recital on September 17 and Bill T. Jones--a major figure in the dance world and winner of a National Medal of Arts, a Kennedy Center Honor and Tony Awards as well as a "genius" MacArthur Fellowship--serves as choreographer, director, and dramaturg of WE SHALL NOT. But don't forget the stars-to-watch-out-for. Already on my radar: the luxurious-voiced mezzo Daniela Mack who sings the title role in CREE (I heard her sing some marvelous highlights from the score) and the unusually sweet-toned countertenor John Holiday of WE SHALL NOT.
Here's the 25-cent tour of the new operas:
ELIZABETH CREE: A work that combines fact and fiction, the historical with the imaginary. Set in London in the 1880s, this highly suspenseful and theatrical opera interweaves several narratives: the trial of the titular heroine for the poisoning of her husband; a series of brutal murders committed by a Jack the Ripper-style killer; the spirited world of an English music hall; and, finally, some "guest appearances" by luminaries from the Victorian Age. Directed by David Schweizer.
WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED: A timely exploration of past and present struggles that suggests an alternate future, combines spoken word, contemporary movement, video projection, classical, R&B and jazz singing, and a brooding, often joyful score. Five North Philly teens on the run have an eerie experience as they find refuge in an abandoned, condemned house in West Philadelphia at the location that was headquarters of the MOVE organization, where a 1985 standoff with police ended with a neighborhood destroyed and 11 people dead, including five children.
THE WAKE WORLD: A fantastic journey through the treasured galleries of The Barnes Foundation, following a wide-eyed seeker and her guardian angel on a dreamlike voyage. In this world premiere, two of the early 20th century's most prolific and polarizing artistic visionaries collide: physician, collector, and writer Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) and Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the British poet, magician, and occultist once dubbed the "wickedest man in the world." Directed by R. B. Schlather.
WAR STORIES: A jarring, complex view of war and its costs from the 17th century to the present era in this Philadelphia premiere. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the setting for this site-specific double-bill, first telling of the Christian soldier Tancredi who battles with a Muslim soldier, actually his disguised lover Clorinda, staged in the museum's medieval cloister. Then, the modern response, in the form of the tale of a returned soldier struggling to readjust to her home and haunted by her experiences, set in the museum's Great Stair Hall.
While THE MAGIC FLUTE dates to the 18th century, it is timeless. This time around, it's done in a playfully subversive production that evokes a meeting between 1920s silent movies and David Lynch, with singers amidst fanciful animated projections. It has been called "a stunning live-action cartoon."
Opera Philadelphia's O17 Festival looks to be a startlingly imaginative way to start the new opera season-not only in Philadelphia but everywhere.
By the way, that not-quite-flattering quote attributed to WC Fields (a Philadelphia native, by the way), "All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia," supposedly on his grave, is purely apocryphal. While he may have said some version of it during his life, his tomb in Forest Lawn Cemetery in California merely says, "W. C. Fields 1880-1946". Today, the ones saying "I'd rather be in Philadelphia" are smart opera-goers.
For tickets and packages to the events of O17, see the Opera Philadelphia website.