Opera Philadelphia's 2018-19 Season Kicks Off With O18 Festival

Opera Philadelphia's 2018-19 Season Kicks Off With O18 Festival

When Opera Philadelphia's inaugural Festival O launched the present season, the opera world responded with a standing ovation, welcoming it as "one of the most enjoyable additions to the fall calendar in years" (Washington Post). Now, with the "spirit ... not to follow taste but to lead it" (Philadelphia Inquirer), the company continues to shape the future of opera. The 2018-19 season kicks off with the festival's second edition, O18, comprising five operatic happenings - two world premieres, two new productions, and a three-part cabaret event - at multiple venues across the city from September 20-30. The season continues in spring 2019 with a pair of repertory favorites in the historic Academy of Music, and two co-presentations with Curtis Opera Theatre and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts at the intimate Perelman Theater. Tackling thought-provoking subject matter and cutting-edge takes on the classics while providing extraordinary artists with the chance to create their most imaginative work, the new season underscores Opera Philadelphia's status as "one of the most creative and ambitious companies in this country" (New York Times).

Anchoring both the O18 festival and the company's year-round Opera at the Academy series is a new production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor from celebrated director and designer Laurent Pelly, with coloratura soprano Brenda Rae in the title role. Composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch, the team behind O17's I Have No Stories to Tell You, return for the world premiere of Sky on Swings, a chamber opera exploring the impermanence of memory, starring mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson. Anthony Roth Costanzo, whose "blazing countertenor" (Wall Street Journal) graced February's Philadelphia premiere of Written on Skin, headlines the world premiere of Glass Handel, the immersive, multidisciplinary operatic installation he is creating in collaboration with Visionaire in the expansive Annenberg Court of Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation, home to O17's The Wake World. The site-specific production Ne Quittez Pas (Hold the Line) from director James Darrah (Breaking the Waves) offers a wider context for Poulenc's La voix humaine in the cabaret setting of Philadelphia's Theatre of Living Arts (TLA), with baritone Edward Nelson and soprano Patricia Racette, "the most fearless woman in opera" (Los Angeles Times). TLA will also be the site of a three-night, three-part cabaret takeover titled Queens of the Night, starring Opera News Award-winning mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (aka Blythely Oratonio) and self-described "drag queen king" Dito van Reigersberg (aka Martha Graham Cracker). It all leads up to a reprise performance of Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night, Opera Philadelphia's 2017 cabaret-play spectacular, which was hailed as "smart and bubbly in all the right places" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Following the fall festival, February brings the U.S. premiere of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the classic Robert Carsen staging, and April marks the return of Davide Livermore's "visually inventive and colorful" (Opera News) take on Puccini's La bohème, in which soprano Vanessa Vasquez - a grand-prize winner at the Metropolitan Opera's 2017 National Council auditions - makes her company debut as Mimì. Opera Philadelphia also partners with the Curtis Institute of Music and the Kimmel Center to co-present two productions at the Perelman Theater. March brings Mozart's Don Giovanni in a new production by R.B. Schlather, the "edgy and imaginative young director" (New Yorker) behind O17's The Wake World and Curtis Opera Theatre's Doctor Atomic. Curtis alumna Karina Canellakis, part of an impressive new generation of female conductors, leads the orchestra. In May, the Perelman Theater will host a new production of Empty the House, a 2016 opera by Curtis alum and Opera Philadelphia Composer in Residence Rene Orth and librettist Mark Campbell, now with a newly expanded orchestration.

David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia, said: "This season, we have curated three operas in the Academy of Music that our audiences very likely know and love. We certainly do. But along with this commitment to explore the finest the canon has to offer comes a commitment to continue the journey into the future of opera by creating new works, interesting site-specific productions, chamber productions with incredible partners, and multimedia installations that push the boundaries of opera while also making us fall in love anew with this amazing art form."

O18 festival packages and full season subscriptions are now on sale at, or by calling 215-732-8400 (Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm). Single tickets will go on sale on Wednesday, August 1 at or by calling 215-732-8400

O17, the first edition of Opera Philadelphia's new annual season-opening festival, presented seven operatic happenings in a twelve-day immersion that underlined the company's newfound role as one of today's most talked-about global tastemakers. Festival highlights included the world premieres of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's Elizabeth Cree, which went on to enjoy a successful run at Chicago Opera Theater; and of We Shall Not Be Moved by Daniel Bernard Roumain, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Bill T. Jones, which made its acclaimed New York premiere at Harlem's Apollo Theater last fall, and is now making its European debut at the Opera Forward Festival in Amsterdam. Other recent company creations subsequently seen around the world include Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek's Breaking the Waves, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2016, before making its first New York appearance at the 2017 Prototype festival; and Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette A. Wimberly's Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2015, and has since graced the Apollo Theater, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and London's Hackney Empire, where it was presented in collaboration with the English National Opera. Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD makes its jazz club debut at Atlanta Opera in September 2018.

Lucia di Lammermoor (new production)
Music by Gaetano Donizetti; libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Co-produced by Opera Philadelphia and Wiener Staatsoper
Sep 21, 23, 26, 28, 30, 2018
Academy of Music

Returning to the Opera Philadelphia stage for the first time in more than two decades, Donizetti's Bel Canto classic takes a dreamlike, ethereal turn, courtesy of Laurent Pelly, named Best Director at the 2016 International Opera Awards. Taking center stage is coloratura soprano Brenda Rae, whose account of the title role has been called "a consummate performance combining vocal agility, physical grace and stylistic nuance" (Santa Fe Reporter). Baritone Troy Cook brings his "dynamic elegance" (Opera News) to the role of her brother, Enrico, alongside tenor Michael Spyres, known for his "limitless grace and vocal purity" (The Guardian), in his company debut as Edgardo. Maestro Corrado Rovaris - a master of the Donizetti tradition and a native, like the composer, of Bergamo, Italy - leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus.

Co-produced with Wiener Staatsoper, the production debuts in Philadelphia before moving on to Vienna in 2019.

Sky on Swings (world premiere)
Music by Lembit Beecher; libretto by Hannah Moscovitch
Sep 20, 22, 25, 27, 29, 2018
Perelman Theater

Is there any grace in forgetting? Can the cruel and random path of dementia also make for fleeting moments of happiness, unencumbered by memories and stripped of the self? Composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch, the team behind O17's I Have No Stories to Tell You, return to Opera Philadelphia for the world premiere of an opera that explores the impermanence of memory and the new hallucinatory experience, untethered from identity and history, which can follow in its wake. Beloved mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade - "one of America's finest artists and singers" (New York Times) - creates the role of Danny, a proud woman who finds unlikely companionship with Martha, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, whose performances are imbued with "infinitely touching and vivid expressiveness" (Opera News). Together in a care home, the two women share a love-filled, fantastical, and hallucinatory experience of reality, as captured in the "hauntingly lovely" (San Francisco Chronicle) music of Lembit Beecher. Daniel Taylor and Opera Philadelphia newcomer Sharleen Joynt round out the ensemble as the women's children, in a production staged by celebrated theater director Joanna Settle in the Perelman Theater, site of the recent world premieres of Elizabeth Cree, Breaking the Waves, and Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD.

Aurora Productions in the Perelman Theater are underwritten, in part, by the Wyncote Foundation at the Recommendation of Frederick R. Haas. Additional production support received by the Allen R. and Judy Brick Freedman Venture Fund for New Opera.

Glass Handel (world premiere)
Music by Philip Glass and George Frideric Handel
Produced by Anthony Roth Costanzo, Visionaire, and Cath Brittan
Co-presented by Opera Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation, and National Sawdust
Sep 22, 23, 30, 2018
The Barnes Foundation

Superstar countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, together with New York-based luxury art and fashion multimedia company Visionaire, creates an hour-long operatic art installation to the music of Handel and Philip Glass. Incorporating music, art, fashion, dance, film, and technology, the immersive evening will offer each member of its audience a unique experience in the expansive Annenberg Court of the Barnes Foundation. Costanzo said: "Opera Philadelphia is really pushing the boundaries of what opera can be, and we want to take it even further and reach out to new audiences, people who are aesthetically primed for a fascinating experience that exists within the context of opera." Glass Handel initially appears to take place in a traditional concert setting, but this quickly deconstructs as audience members are taken on different paths through the space, encountering visuals from a variety of disciplines. The evening will feature live painting by George Condo, "one of the most influential living American artists" (Vanity Fair), and new work by the prolific Justin Peck, choreographer in residence at New York City Ballet and choreographer of Broadway's upcoming revival of Carousel, in collaboration with star dancer Patricia Delgado, formerly of Miami City Ballet. This will be complemented by videos from James Ivory, 2018 Academy Award-winner for Best Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name; Pix Talarico, who has won multiple Grammy nominations for his 200-plus music videos; and many others.

Opera Philadelphia's world premiere production also serves as the international launch for the first recording of Costanzo's exclusive new contract with Decca Gold, the U.S.-based classical label of Universal Music Group. Recorded with Les Violons du Roy, the new album combines arias by Handel, including "Pena tiranna" from Amadigi di Gaula and "Stille amare" from Tolomeo, with new arrangements from Glass's catalogue, including the "Hymn" from Akhnaten, and a world-premiere recording. This integration of the contemporary with the Baroque epitomizes Costanzo's iconoclastic approach to the countertenor repertoire. He explained: "For me, singing is about emotion, and both Handel and Glass generate a kind of cathartic drama, but often in completely different ways. I can't wait to explore how these operatic emotions can impact a wide spectrum of listeners." Glass Handel will continue on to New York and beyond after the Philadelphia premiere.

Ne Quittez Pas (Hold the Line)
A reimagined La voix humaine (new production)
Music by Francis Poulenc; libretto by Jean Cocteau
Based on the play by Jean Cocteau
Sep 22, 23, 27, 29, 30, 2018
Theatre of Living Arts

This site-specific new production opens with an intimate selection of French art and cabaret songs, followed by one of opera's most powerful monologues. Based on Jean Cocteau's play of the same name, Poulenc's telephonic opera, La voix humaine (The Human Voice), depicts a lonely woman laying bare the heartbreak of unrequited love. Cocteau explained: "The telephone is sometimes more dangerous than the revolver, its tangled cord drain[ing] us of our strength, while giving us nothing in return." No stranger to breakups himself, Poulenc called his opera a "musical confession."

Traditional productions of La voix humaine inevitably leave audiences wondering just who is on the other end of the line. The prelude that opens Opera Philadelphia's voyeuristic multimedia staging answers that question, when baritone Edward Nelson, who is "compelling from start to finish" (San Francisco Classical Voice), performs a collection of French art and cabaret songs. Soprano Patricia Racette then takes the stage to reprise her "deeply poignant performance as the unhappy heroine of Poulenc's setting," in which she "colors words with supple phrasing, velvety tone, and excellent French diction" (Chicago Tribune). James Darrah, who is not only "incredibly ingenious, creative, and talented" (Huffington Post), but whose production of Breaking the Waves was nominated for the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere, directs.

Queens of the Night
Sep 24, 2018: Cabaret Night hosted by Blythely Oratonio
Sep 25, 2018: Cabaret Night hosted by Martha Graham Cracker
Sep 28, 2018: Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night
Theatre of Living Arts

The Theatre of Living Arts (TLA) becomes the site of a three-night, three-part cabaret takeover hosted by Blythely Oratonio (aka Stephanie Blythe) and Martha Graham Cracker (aka Dito van Reigersberg). Philadelphia's cabaret stars, opera singers, and special surprise guests strut their stuff while Blythely and Martha preside over the pomp and pageantry. It all leads up to a special reprise performance of Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night, Opera Philadelphia's 2017 cabaret-play spectacular, about which the Philadelphia Inquirer marveled: "For a night, anyway, Philadelphia managed to put what seemed like one of everyone into a single room - gay, straight, young, slacker, and establishment types - and the world was a loving, funny place."

Written and directed by John Jarboe (Bearded Ladies Cabaret), Dito & Aeneas is a concert and dance party with costumes designed by Machine Dazzle, whose elaborate designs for Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music were described as "gaudy, glittery, and gorgeously subversive" (New York Times).

A Midsummer Night's Dream (U.S. production premiere)
Music by Benjamin Britten; libretto by Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Production of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence & Opera National de Lyon
Feb 8, 10, 15, 17, 2019
Academy of Music

After touring the world for more than a quarter of a century, Robert Carsen's production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream - "a show that's so much fun" (The Guardian) - finally makes its way stateside. Leading the cast, countertenor Tim Mead revisits his "seductive and commanding" portrayal of Oberon (The Guardian) opposite the "sexy and flirty" (Wall Street Journal) Tytania of soprano Anna Christy. Birgit Nilsson Prize-winning tenor Brenton Ryan, "sensational" soprano Georgia Jarman (Financial Times), and Curtis Institute of Music graduate, bass Matthew Rose - styled the "top of the Bottoms" by The Times of London for his "funny and touchingly endearing" performance (Guardian) - round out the colorful operatic cast. Complementing them with his "richest of speaking voices and fearless tumbling skills" (Bachtrack) is Game of Thrones alumnus Miltos Yerolemou as Puck.

Don Giovanni
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
March 7, 8, 9, 10, 2019
Perelman Theater
Curtis Opera Theatre at the Perelman in partnership with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Opera Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts have teamed up for a decade of new co-presentations, their previous collaborations having been hailed as "must-see events for serious operagoers" by Opera News. Under the artistic direction of Mikael Eliasen, the Curtis Opera Theatre has become known for imaginative productions, bold concepts, and absorbing theatre. Promising young singers work alongside professional directors and designers, resulting in innovative, one-of-a-kind productions. In addition to a four-opera season in Philadelphia at venues including the Prince Theater, Curtis Opera Studio, and Perelman Theater, Curtis's voice and opera students appear frequently with Curtis on Tour, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Philadelphia.

Besides creating O17's world premiere presentation of The Wake World, last year R.B. Schlather directed Curtis Opera Theatre's stagings of John Adams's Doctor Atomic and Debussy's Impressions of Pelléas. Now he brings his distinctive vision to this new production of Mozart's classic rendering of the Don Juan story, under the leadership of Karina Canellakis, heralded as an "impressive rising conductor" (Los Angeles Times).

Full cast and creative team details will be announced with the Curtis Opera Theatre season later this year.

La bohème
Music by Giacomo Puccini; libretto by Luigi Illica, Giuseppe Giacosa
Production of the Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofía" in Valencia, Spain, in 2012
April 26, 28; May 1, 3, 5, 2019
Academy of Music

This popular revival of Puccini's romantic blockbuster features masterpieces from the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, when vivid projections of some of the world's most renowned Impressionist art - including works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cassatt - set the stage at the Academy of Music. When first mounted by Opera Philadelphia in 2012, Davide Livermore's "visually inventive and colorful" (Opera News) production was deemed "an absolute success, full of fine singing and acting, and eye-filling stage direction" (Philadelphia Inquirer). In this much-anticipated revival, 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions-winning soprano Vanessa Vazquez - credited with "melting all hearts" (Chicago Tribune) - makes her Opera Philadelphia debut as the shy seamstress Mimì. Opposite her as Rodolfo is Evan LeRoy Johnson, who impressed Philadelphia magazine with his "ardently full-voiced tenor." Baritone Troy Cook returns to the role he undertook in 2012, when he offered "a strong, well-rounded portrayal of Marcello" (Opera News); the "mellow-voiced and charismatic" baritone Will Liverman (New York Times), last seen in Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD, returns to sing Schaunard; and bass Peixin Chen brings "aural and interpretive beauty" (WQXR) to the role of Colline.

Empty the House (new production)
Music by Rene Orth; libretto by Mark Campbell
May 2, 4, 5, 2019
Perelman Theater
Curtis Opera Theatre at the Perelman in partnership with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

The music of Rene Orth, a composer who "breaks new ground" (Opera News), is "always dramatic, reflective, rarely predictable, and often electronic" (Musical America). The Dallas, TX native is a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she held the Edward B. Garrigues Fellowship. She currently serves as Opera Philadelphia's sixth Composer in Residence, a post that she retains through the 2018-19 season.

Set to a libretto by Mark Campbell, Orth's chamber opera, Empty the House, received its world premiere in a sold-out run at Curtis Opera Theatre in January 2016. An intimate, poignant exploration of the complex nature of forgiveness, it depicts a mother whose grown daughter returns to help her move out of the family home, which is filled with painful memories that nearly overwhelm them both. Having originally scored the opera for a nine-piece ensemble and electronic soundtrack, for the new production Orth has rearranged it for chamber orchestra.

Full cast and creative team details will be announced with the Curtis Opera Theatre season later this year.

Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century. Described as "the very model of a modern opera company" (Washington Post), Opera Philadelphia was the only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company. For more information, visit

Related Articles View More Philadelphia Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You