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Opera Philadelphia Launches Digital Streaming Festival

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Opera Philadelphia Launches Digital Streaming Festival

Over the past five years, Opera Philadelphia has presented no fewer than nine world premieres, scoring multiple awards and winning international audience and critical recognition. Now that the 2019-20 season has been cut short by the need for social distancing, the company is extending its season online with Digital Festival O.

Comprising video streams of five hit productions - four recent new works among them - the festival kicks off with the online premiere of 2020 International Opera Award-nominee Denis & Katya (May 1), and continues with chances to see Opera Philadelphia's popular 2014 staging of The Barber of Seville (May 15) and the online premieres of International Opera Award-nominee Sky on Swings (May 22), MCANA Best New Opera Award-winner Breaking the Waves (May 29) and international success story We Shall Not Be Moved (May 10). To mark the 35th anniversary of Philadelphia's unconscionable MOVE bombing, besides streaming online, We Shall Not Be Moved will be presented in two special broadcasts for audiences throughout the region on the city's PBS WHYY-TV 12 station (May 10) and its subsidiary Y2 (May 15).

Starring soprano Kiera Duffy, mezzo Frederica von Stade, countertenor John Holiday, bass Kevin Burdette and many more of today's finest singers, the productions are anchored by members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus. Special opening-night content will include pre-show interviews, allowing artists to share their memories of bringing each new show to the stage. After receiving digital premieres on YouTube and at operaphila.org, all five productions will remain available on-demand for varying lengths of time through August 31. The festival comes at a time of urgent fundraising for the company, which must raise $4 million by May 31 in order to move forward with plans for the 2020-21 season.

David B. Devan, General Director & President of Opera Philadelphia, says: "The unprecedented social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized the performing arts community, sparking generous artist relief funds and online expressions of creativity as we all navigate this challenging time in our history. Digital Festival O, which premieres when we had originally planned to gather at the Academy of Music for a live production of Madame Butterfly, celebrates the joy so many singers, musicians, composers, librettists, conductors, directors, and designers have brought into our lives through these new operas and productions, giving us an opportunity to share in the power of music and theater while reminding us that we will all gather together again in the future. It is our hope to see everyone in September at Festival O20, but until that time Festival O stands for 'online.'"

Denis & Katya

Music by Philip Venables; libretto by Ted Huffman
World premiere: September 2019 as part of Festival O19
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 1 at 8pm

Opera Philadelphia scored a hit at Festival O19 with the world premiere of Denis & Katya. A timely and immersive multimedia chamber opera by composer Philip Venables and librettist-director Ted Huffman, the new work was inspired by the true story of 15-year-old runaways Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who became social media sensations when they livestreamed the armed stand-off with Russian Special Forces that culminated in their own deaths. The world premiere production featured a double cast, all of whose members took on multiple roles; as seen in the upcoming online stream, the first cast paired American baritone Theo Hoffman with German-American mezzo-soprano Siena Licht Miller.

Commissioned and produced in collaboration with Music Theatre Wales and France's Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, Denis & Katya proved a resounding critical success at its Opera Philadelphia premiere. The New York Times heralded the opera as an "intimate, haunting triumph," and Musical America called it "the most brilliantly original operatic work I've seen in a decade." Included in the New York Times's "Best Classical Music of 2019," the opera was recognized with the 2019 FEDORA-GENERALI Prize for Opera and a nomination for "Best World Premiere" at the 2020 International Opera Awards.

We Shall Not Be Moved

Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain; libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph
World premiere: September 2017 as part of Festival O17
Broadcast on WHYY-TV 12 on Sunday, May 10 at 2pm
Premiering on YouTube and at operaphila.org on Sunday, May 10 at 7pm
Broadcast for high-school students on Y2 on Friday, May 15 at 1pm
(WHYY is available on Comcast 812 & Fios 512; Y2 is available on 12.2, Comcast 257 & Verizon Fios 474.)

Nearly three years after its sold-out world premiere at Festival O17, We Shall Not Be Moved returns in a pair of special telecasts, presented in collaboration with WHYY-TV 12. This commemorates the 35th anniversary of the deadly bombing on May 13, 1985, of West Philadelphia's MOVE compound, where the opera takes place.

Drawing on the collective talents of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, Haitian-American librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and peerless director, choreographer and dramaturge Bill T. Jones, We Shall Not Be Moved tells the story of five North Philadelphia teen runaways and their confrontation with the local police, in a timely exploration of race, gender, national identity, personal responsibility, and the limits of the public education system. Conducted by Viswa Subbaraman and starring spoken-word artist Lauren Whitehead, mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez, countertenor John Holiday, tenor Daniel Shirley, baritone Adam Richardson and bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock, its world premiere production was named one of the "Best Classical Music Performances of 2017" (New York Times).

A hit with audiences and critics alike, We Shall Not Be Moved was hailed as a "highly polished piece of theater" (Philadelphia Inquirer) that "succeeds on the level of art and not just polemic" (Opera News). After making successful New York and European debuts at Harlem's Apollo Theater and Amsterdam's Opera Forward Festival, where it was presented by Dutch National Opera, the work returned to Philadelphia in a free outdoor Opera on the Mall screening for an audience of nearly 4,000 in 2018.

The Barber of Seville

Music by Gioachino Rossini; libretto by Cesare Sterbini
Production premiere: September 2014
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 15 at 8pm

Created in collaboration with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Philadelphia's new co-production of Rossini's opera buffa classic was a hit at the Academy of Music when it launched the company's 40th anniversary season, before drawing nearly 5,000 people to Independence Mall for a free HD broadcast. With its colorful sets and costumes, director Michael Shell's production recalls the comic films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar; the Philadelphia Inquirer called it "one big lollipop for the eyes, ... with Rossini's music sounding fit and lively amid a cast of first-rate singers."

This stellar cast features baritone Jonathan Beyer as Figaro, mezzo Jennifer Holloway as Rosina, tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva, bass Kevin Burdette as Dr. Bartolo, soprano Katrina Thurman as Berta, and bass-baritone Wayne Tigges as a scene-stealing Don Ramiro, all under the baton of Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris.

Sky on Swings

Music by Lembit Beecher; libretto by Hannah Moscovitch
World premiere: September 2018 as part of Festival O18
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 22 at 8pm

Festival O18 launched on the eve of World Alzheimer's Day with the world premiere of Sky on Swings. An unflinching yet uplifting exploration of Alzheimer's disease from Opera Philadlephia's inaugural Composer-in-Residence, Lembit Beecher, and his longtime collaborator, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, the chamber opera earned a nomination for "Best World Premiere" at the 2019 International Opera Awards.

Built around the talents of mezzo-sopranos Marietta Simpson and Frederica von Stade, Sky on Swings premiered in a production by Joanna Settle that also featured soprano Sharleen Joynt, tenor Daniel Taylor and the leadership of conductor Geoffrey McDonald. "This was opera as real life," declared the Wall Street Journal's Heidi Waleson. "Sky on Swings deserves a permanent place in the repertoire," concluded Bachtrack. As Parterre put it, the production marked "a monumental achievement for Opera Philadelphia."

Breaking the Waves

Music by Missy Mazzoli; libretto by Royce Vavrek
World premiere: September 2016
Premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 29 at 8pm

An Opera Philadelphia commission from the creative team of composer Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek and director James Darrah, it was Breaking the Waves that launched the company's fall 2016-2017 season. Adapted from Lars von Trier's searing Oscar-nominated film, the opera depicts a tragedy of conflicting ethical imperatives that serves as a meditation on the nature of goodness.

Starring soprano Kiera Duffy and baritone John Moore under the baton of Steven Osgood, the premiere proved a sensation. The Wall Street Journal called Breaking the Waves "savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original," and Opera News counted it "among the best 21st-century American operas yet produced." After traveling to New York's Prototype Festival, the opera was recognized with the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA)'s inaugural Best New Opera Award. The production is scheduled to receive its West Coast premiere at LA Opera in in February 2021.


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