21C Welcomes Opera Philadelphia, Now Celebrating 40th Anniversary Season with World Premiere of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD and More
21C is delighted to announce that it now represents Opera Philadelphia, at what marks a pivotal moment in the company’s history. Currently celebrating its 40th anniversary season, Opera Philadelphia is enjoying a period of creative resurgence, successfully negotiating the transition from what Opera News styled “a bastion of standard productions of standard repertoire” into “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country.” Indeed, Opera Philadelphia has been chosen as the only American finalist for the 2015 International Opera Award for Accessibility, a category that recognizes opera houses for innovative ideas that broaden access to opera. This transformation owes in no small part to key initiatives introduced by General Director & President David B. Devan and Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris. Most notable are the American Repertoire Program, which sees the company producing a recent American opera in each of ten consecutive seasons, and a Mellon Foundation-funded partnership with New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group that represents the nation’s first collaborative Composer-in-Residence program. In the present season alone, upcoming productions include Opera Philadelphia’s first world premiere in more than three decades: Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD (2015), starring Lawrence Brownlee and Angela Brown; the East Coast premiere of Oscar (2013), with David Daniels’s star turn as Oscar Wilde; and a new staging of Don Carlo, anchored by Philadelphia native Eric Owens in his role debut as Philip II. As the Washington Post realized, Opera Philadelphia and Devan are “increasingly taking chances, offering unusual and new work along with repertory staples, and carving out a place for themselves as proponents of American opera.”
American Repertoire Program: Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD and Oscar premieres
It was to foster a new generation of homegrown opera composers, and tell authentically American stories, that Opera Philadelphia launched the American Repertoire Program in 2011. This has already resulted in such success stories as the East Coast premieres of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, and of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, an Opera Philadelphia co-commission starring Frederica von Stade, as well as a production of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters that built upon the success of its New York premiere.
Now, to crown Opera Philadelphia’s 2014-15 lineup, the program yields the company’s first world premiere since 1976. Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and developed in partnership with Gotham Chamber Opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was created for tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Male Opera Singer of the Year Award, by composer Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend … constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times). Marking the newest installment in Opera Philadelphia’s popular Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, it will premiere in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater – described as “one of the ideal chamber opera venues in the Northeast” (Arts Journal) – for a five-performance run conducted by Music Director Corrado Rovaris (June 5–14). In an illuminating preview video, director Ron Daniels explains that the new opera aims to capture “the poetic essence” of Parker’s life. “Having operas that represent African-American subjects are very important, because we helped build this country,” adds soprano Angela Brown, who portrays the legendary jazz saxophonist’s mother. “It’s inspirational, and it’s moving, and it’s colorful, and it’s strong, and it’s American,” affirms librettist Bridgette Wimberly, the award-winning playwright hailed as “one of the country’s most powerful chroniclers of the black underclass” (New York Times). This reflects Opera Philadelphia’s commitment to programming works relevant to the multicultural Philadelphia community, and to broadening and diversifying opera’s audience; as radio station WRTI-FM marveled, the company “is clearly not your father’s opera. It’s actually more like your hipster nephew’s opera.”
For the New Year’s first American Repertoire Program offering, Opera Philadelphia presents Theodore Morrison’s opera Oscar, also the portrait of a troubled artist, this time the literary world’s Oscar Wilde. A co-commission with the Santa Fe Opera, at its first outing Oscar was pronounced “one of the most promising new operas in years” (Dallas Morning News), and, in the title role, countertenor David Daniels proved “superb, not only singing but also acting the role with a savvy Wildean mix of arrogance and vulnerability” (New York Times). Daniels resumes his portrayal for Opera Philadelphia’s East Coast premiere. Now in the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music, the oldest U.S. opera venue still used for its original purpose, he will rejoin his co-stars William Burden and Heidi Stober in Kevin Newbury’s production, again with Evan Rogister on the podium (Feb 6–15); a preview video is provided here.
Next season brings another major new co-commission with the Santa Fe Opera, when Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, and Jay Hunter Morris star in Opera Philadelphia’s East Coast premiere of Cold Mountain, a first opera for Pulitzer Prize-winning Philadelphia native Jennifer Higdon, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, in February 2016. Music Director Corrado Rovaris conduct this highly-anticipated new work.
Eric Owens’s homecoming in Verdi’s Don Carlo
Opera Philadelphia remains equally committed to delivering outstanding presentations of the great masterpieces of the traditional opera repertory. After launching the 2013-14 season with a grand-scale Nabucco that was simulcast to an outdoor audience of thousands, the company returns to Verdi with a new staging of Don Carlo from Laurence Olivier Award-winning British director Tim Albery. The production is built around bass-baritone Eric Owens, who makes his role debut as King Philip II. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes, “If any single individual represents many of the city’s institutions, it’s bass-baritone Owens, who is Philadelphia-born and trained in several of them”; in a preview video, Owens confesses: “It seems like a homecoming for my voice. … It’s just the perfect match.” He will be joined by Dimitri Pittas as Don Carlo, Leah Crocetto as Elizabeth de Valois, and Michelle DeYoung as Princess Eboli, all making house debuts, with Corrado Rovaris leading from the pit in the Academy of Music (April 24–May 3).
Opera Philadelphia launched its landmark 40th season with a star-studded celebratory gala featuring Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, followed by an auspicious new take on Rossini’s The Barber of Seville that “created an environment that simply made you want to be there” (Philadelphia Inquirer). An homage to Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, the new production prompted the Parterre blog to conclude:
“It works. Director Michael Shell’s interweaving of Rossini and Almodóvar is truly inspired. All the hallmarks of Almodóvar are visible in Shell’s production – bright, almost garish colors, pop art galore, the melee of urban living, a cast filled with off-the-wall characters.”
About Opera Philadelphia
Opera Philadelphia creates outstanding productions of both classic and new operatic works that resonate within the community, assembles the finest international creative artists, and presents a wide array of programming that educates, deepens, and diversifies the opera audience in Philadelphia and beyond. Opera Philadelphia is leading the field in the development of new opera. In partnership with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group, the company runs the nation’s first collaborative Composer-in-Residence program, made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with talented composers Lembit Beecher, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and David T. Little each involved in several years of intensive, hands-on work to develop an understanding of the many facets of developing and producing opera. In tandem with the Composer-in-Residence program, the American Repertoire Program is aimed at fostering a new generation of opera composers and telling authentically American stories. It is steered by the American Repertoire Council, a committed group of volunteer advisors overseen by operatic baritone Nathan Gunn. More information is available at www.operaphila.org.
Opera Philadelphia: upcoming presentations
Theodore Morrison: Oscar
American Repertoire Program; East Coast premiere
Feb 6, 8m, 11, 13, 15m
Academy of Music
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
Curtis Opera Theatre
March 4, 6, 8m
Verdi: Don Carlo
April 24, 26m, 29; May 1, 3m
Academy of Music
Daniel Schnyder: Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD
American Repertoire Program; world premiere
June 5, 7m, 10, 12, 14m
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© 21C Media Group, January 2015