Before you stop and needlessly worry yourself that this story and its subject are stuffy think again. Opera Philadelphia’s still fresh general director and president David B. Devan has that new car smell about him and is thinking – as he has always – out of the box.
It was Devan and Opera Philadelphia that provoked cabaret drag impresario John Jarboe into crafting the Warhol Factory driven, weird warehouse-placed ANDY: A Popera, and pushed internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and Philly’s Drag Queen King Martha Graham Cracker into teaming up for several Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night events.
Along with collaborating on performance art-driven opera with the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and commissioning innovative operas such as tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s Yardbird (about troubled jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker), Devan and Opera Philadelphia crafted the world’s first Netflix-like festival of new and twisted-traditional operas, with the O Fest.
Needless to say, O20 and the whole of the Opera Philadelphia 2021 season is canceled. On Wednesday, OP announced the sad fact that this year’s iteration of its annual fall opera festival would not (could not) occur at that company would either postpone or move online all but one of the live productions scheduled for 2020-21. This means composer-teacher Jennifer Higdon from the Curtis Institute of Music’s Woman with Eyes Closed chamber opera won’t world premiere here until late 2021. Dag.
With that, Devan and the OP have come up with a still-winning idea, and one that furthers its Netflixing effect on an ancient musical stage genre: a new Opera Philadelphia Channel available through a number of diverse global platforms such as AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, Amazon FireTV, Chromecast, and more. A subscription for the entire online season will cost $99.
Launching this autumn, the Opera Philadelphia Channel makes for a dramatic digital space in which artists can explore “new commissions and dynamic performances produced solely for the screen.”
This includes events such as Philly friendly tenor Brownlee, (now serving as Opera Philadelphia’s Artistic Advisor) and two filmed concerts. – “Lawrence Brownlee & Friends in Philadelphia” performing arias, songs, and spirituals, as well as the broadcast premiere of Cycles of My Being, a song cycle that centers on what it means to be a Black man living in America today, penned by Tyshawn Sorey, currently Opera Philadelphia’s Composer in Residence.
This also means that a new production of Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimarrón, once scheduled for O20, is now reimagined as “a cinematic experience” with bass-baritone Sir Willard White, as well as a fresh production of Soldier Songs from composer David T. Little, starring baritone Johnathan McCullough and conducted by Opera Philadelphia Maestro Corrado Rovaris. If you say you’re looking for some opera shorts, Opera Philadelphia is also commissioning a series of four short new digital works from new innovative composers.
Additional information on all programs will be announced in the fall.
“Guided by the current global health pandemic and recommendations from city and state health experts, Opera Philadelphia is committed to safely engaging with our audiences, artists, musicians, staff, and our community,” said David B. Devan, in an email. “We have made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel Festival O20 and postpone many of the operas and events planned for our theaters, but we are thrilled to reimagine much of the proposed season, and expand it with new offerings, to be delivered to homes across the world via the Opera Philadelphia Channel. I am so thankful for the leadership provided by our company’s Board of Directors and to the staff of Opera Philadelphia for creatively adapting to this moment in our history. Through the broadcasts of these new performances and a robust series of roundtable conversations, lectures, panel discussions, and educational programming, we aim to create a space of inclusivity and belonging among people in the city of Philadelphia and opera lovers across the globe.”