Futuristic Approach to Opera Brings Success to O18

Anthony Roth Costanzo stars in his own multi-media creation “Glass Handel” at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O18.

Anthony Roth Costanzo stars in his own multi-media creation “Glass Handel” at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O18.

The opera world is no longer for sitting inside a theater and quietly watching a performance, according to Opera Philadelphia. In its second year of production, this year’s festival, titled O18, has even attracted international attention while impacting this city in Pennsylvania.

“One of the great things about Festival O is its ability to truly transform the city into an urban stage by taking opera outside of the opera house and partnering with other institutions in Philadelphia,” said Frank Luzi, vice president of communications at Opera Philadelphia.

This 11-day festival can be tailor-made to each person’s interests and tastes. They can see one opera or see everything, “essentially binge-watching operas in one visit,” Luzi said.

O18 brought many great productions to life, from traditional to interactive to futuristic. Festival-goers saw a brand new production of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Brenda Rae and Michael Spyres, which will next go to Vienna in 2019. Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson starred in the world premiere of Sky on Swings, an opera about characters coping with Alzheimer’s disease, from composer Lembit Beecher, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, and director Joanna Settle. A reimagining of La voix humaine and the artist-driven Queens of the Night cabaret serial worked beautifully against the rock club patina of the Theatre of Living Arts.  

Glass Handel at the Barnes Foundation, a partner in this endeavor, upended traditional ideas about opera for a truly unique experience curated by artists at the top of their fields including countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Also, curators found it wonderful to give the audiences a glimpse of the future of opera with a recital series by Emerging Artists at the Curtis Institute of Music.  

“It’s exciting for our artists to be able to stage operas in nontraditional locations, and it’s exciting for us to be able to introduce our audiences to different parts of our great city,” Luzi said. 

Amid all the new productions, it was thrilling to the curators to be able to bring back one of its O17 operas, We Shall Not Be Moved, as a free screening on Independence Mall. More than 4,000 people came out to see this screening. 

“An opera about Philadelphia, for Philadelphia, it was the perfect event for the final weekend of the Festival,” Luzi said. 

Festival-goers came from all over the world, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Media coverage included The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Associated Press, Denver Post, Opera News, Opera Magazine, Opera Canada, Toronto Star, Opera NOW, and other media outlets. 

Ray Mark Rinaldi wrote in the Denver Post, "Philadelphia is reaffirming that classical music has a legit place in 21st-century American art, and anyone who cares about opera ought to pay attention." Anne Midgette of the Washington Post wrote, “Opera in Philadelphia really can claim to offer something for everyone.” Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times wrote, “’None of this tired stuff done in the same way’ could really be the festival’s motto.” 

For details on next year’s Festival O19, make sure to keep updated on Opera Philadelphia’s website.

A scene from the screening of “We Shall Not Be Moved”. (Photo by Dave DiRentis)

A scene from the screening of “We Shall Not Be Moved”. (Photo by Dave DiRentis)