Opera Philadelphia will soon launch its annual seasons with a fall opera festival, rather than a single opening production.
Starting in 2017, the city’s premiere opera company will present seven concerts in six venues around the city, including premieres and new works never seen in Philadelphia.
Legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones will direct a newly commissioned hip-hop opera at the Wilma Theater; a subversive German version of Mozart’s Magic Flute will be performed at the Academy of Music and simulcast for free on Independence Mall; and two war-related works will be performed inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On the steps of the museum’s Grand Staircase will be performed “I Have No Stories to Tell You,” by Lembit Beecher, written in part while he was composer in residence at Opera Philadelphia. He wrote it in response to “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” a short opera written by Monteverdi in 1624. The Monteverdi will also be performed at the Art Museum inside the medieval stone cloister reassembled in the galleries.
Both pieces deal with war, the earlier with the first Christian Crusade, the latter with contemporary soldiers coming home. Beecher used antique instrumentation similar to that of Monteverdi — lute, harpsichord, and violins with gut strings — to compose music in a contemporary style.
“I think our culture has gotten very used to this — whether it’s sampling a bass line from 20 years ago, or responding to something written 400 years ago,” said Beecher. “There’s a release of creativity that comes from that process.”
Opera Philadelphia, as its director David Devan likes to say, is trying to bring opera into the 21st century. The festival takes all of its innovative programs — opera staged in non-traditional places, free opera broadcasts in Independence Mall, new commissions for contemporary opera — into a dense, 12-day experience.
“Think of it as the Netflix effect,” said Devan. “This allows people to binge-watch opera on a weekend much the same way they might watch ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Sopranos.’ We have found through market research this is a preferred way for people to experience out art.”
Devan says the coveted 25- to 34-year-old demographic does not tend to buy season subscriptions. The festival is designed to excite the single-ticket buyer.
Opera Philadelphia is not the only one to do this. Last summer, the former Center City Opera company — now called Vulcan Lyric — radically reorganized itself to substitute its entire season for a brief summer festival. Unlike that company, Opera Philadelphia will continue with its regular subscription season in the spring.