Opera Philadelphia’s next season mixes brand new with tried and true

“The Fascists take the stage in blood and darkness.”

That was Tweeted by journalist Joel Mathis during the performance of Opera Philadelphia’s Ainadamar on Feb. 7. Mathis was among a small group of people invited to tweet about the performance in real time.

It’s an activity unthinkable for traditional opera lovers.

At 40 years old next season, Opera Philadelphia is of a certain age. The 2014-2015 season has been programmed to straddle the older canon — with chestnuts like Verdi’s Don Carlo and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville — and brand-new works about Oscar Wilde and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, which is so new the composer hasn’t finished writing it.

“We feel like a person turning 40. You start having confidence in your career, and your life starts coming together,” said Opera Philadelphia general director and president David Devan. “It’s given us confidence to do new work development, with Oscar‘ and Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and to do ‘Barber‘ and a new production of Don Carlo with a dream cast.”

The cast includes Eric Owens, a Philadelphia-born baritone who is a star in the international opera world. He will sing the part of King Philip, Don Carlo’s father, a role he has never sung before.

“More and more, we are working with leading singers of the day, asking them what they want to sing with us and building the season from that perspective,” Devan said. “We think that makes a real visceral performance.”

With specific singers in mind, Opera Philadelphia has commissioned new works. Charlie Parker: Yardbird, a fantastical chamber opera from the perspective of the jazz saxaphonist moments after his death, will have its premiere next season. Composer Daniel Schnyder was commissioned to write it for the voice of tenor Lawrence Brownlee.

“His voice can do all the contours and shapes and trills of Charlie Parker’s music,” Devan said.

The season also includes Oscar, an opera about Oscar Wilde, the London wit brought down by a homophobic indecency trial. The dark story set during his time in prison was co-commissioned with Santa Fe Opera, which premiered it last summer.

“The opera is about this man’s struggle.” Devan said. “It’s not about his quips. It’s really about the man and what is being done to him.”

The 2014-2015 season will be the first programmed entirely under Devan’s watch. He became director three years ago, and says this is emblematic of things to come.

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