The start of the #O17 festival.

As soon as I got back from vacation I started attending Philadelphia’s first Opera festival. It is called O17 and I am really happy that we are trying to do something a little different this year. Sam and I are part of Opera Philadelphia’s Vivace group. Which the opera calls “Opera Philadelphia’s community for the young professional”. Young is relative, as there are no octogenarians in Vivace, and the professional part seems boring, but it is an affordable way to get season tickets to premium seats. I wish it was tagged “Opera Philadelphia’s community for the young enthusiast,” but they are cultivating donors. I get it.

We started with the Magic Flute on Friday. I have never seen this opera, and the stage was a blank white canvas with projected animation. It was really good. Sam told me that there is a lot of spoken dialogue in this opera, and they handle that by projecting the text on the stage to convey a silent film. It was nicely done, and it is a production that I think everyone should go and see. Rachel Sterrenberg plays Pamina and she is really wonderful.

Last night we went to see We Shall Not Be Moved. It’s a new opera set in the shadow of the MOVE bombing, about 5 teenagers running from the tragedy and circumstance that set them up for victimhood. The subject matter is top-notch and I hope we get more contemporary operas that are this strong. I thought the dancers were an excellent addition, though Sam did not appreciate them.

I found the writing for the police officer to be a bit cliché, and there was a bit too much spoken word for me. It is supposed to be an opera after all. It is completely sold out in Philadelphia, but I think it is supposed to open at the Apollo in New York. If this subject matters interests,  make sure you go see it. I thought the singer John Holiday was incredible.

I am having a good time with the festival. I am really glad the opera is doing it, and I hope it sets our opera up for more innovative productions in the future.

Come with us to O17

Our local opera company, Opera Philadelphia is hosting an opera festival this September. The festival is called O17.   We are really excited about it.  We bought tickets for it and we want you to come with us.

Come to Philly, stay in our guest room, and buy tickets for the following days.

Performance/Event Day  Date
Magic Flute Friday 15-Sep-17
We Shall Not Be Moved Sunday 17-Sep-17
Radvanovsky MASTERCLASS Monday 18-Sep-17
War Stories Tuesday 19-Sep-17
Elizabeth Cree Thursday 21-Sep-17
Opera On The Mall Saturday 23-Sep-17
The Wake World Monday 25-Sep-17

Finding Opera in Philadelphia

The first time I went to an opera I was 19 years old. It saw Mozart’s Don Giovanni and I was hooked. I loved all of it. I loved the music, the story, and the stage production. Hell, I loved the title character, no matter the heights of his villainy (or libido). When I moved to Philadelphia I was pleased to discover that we have at least 4 different ways to experience the opera in our city.

If you have never been to the opera, than you may be nervous. That is totally ok. On its surface it seems pretentious, complicated, and utterly inaccessible. Admittedly, not all operas are the same. For someone new to opera I would suggest something like Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, rather than Wagner’s The Valkyrie. No matter which opera you start with, go in with an open mind.

I watch a lot of opera, but do I have a problem with the opera audience. The average age at any given performance is about 82. I want, no I need, more young people to come and enjoy the opera. I fear in 15 years I’ll be the only one there. The opera is easy to enjoy, not uptight or formal, and fun. You do not need any experience to go to it and can leave your tuxedo at home.

In the movie The Quartet, Tom Courtenay’s character says, “It was people just like who went to opera, with casual clothes, they took food, they took alcohol, and they threw things. Anyway that was a long time ago. Then rich people took over the world of opera, with their fancy dress, and they took the soul out of it. They made it something that it is not.” I love the quote, because it is tells tale of an opera community that I want to return.

How can you help bring the opera community back to its roots? Start going to it as soon as possible. Where does one see the opera in Philadelphia? We have plenty of options:

Opera Philadelphia
This is our city’s opera and it performs in the Academy of Music on Broad Street. They produce 5 operas a year and occasionally do something extra in the off-season. They worked with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret in the summer of 2014.

One of the great things about Opera Philadelphia is that it is willing to try new things. They always show the opening night for free at Independence mall. Last year, they hosted a social media night, where they sat a few audience members together to live tweet the opera. There were mixed reviews of the experience, but I really appreciate the opera attempting to reach out to new audiences.

Curtis Opera Theatre
According to the website, the Curtis Opera Theatre works with established professional directors and designers to create fresh interpretations of standard repertoire and contemporary works.

This is student opera, but do not let that dissuade you from going to it. These are some of the most polished opera students in the United States and will be on the big stages in a few years. Here you can watch them before they are cool. You get to see amazing performers in a far more intimate setting than a formal opera house could provide. I have seen tickets go for as little as $5.

The Academy of Vocal Arts
According to their website, The Academy of Vocal Arts is a school dedicated to providing free higher education to aspiring opera singers.

The AVA produces 3 fully staged operas every year. One of the nice parts about the AVA is that their shows happen in the city and in the suburbs. If you are under 30, you can get a ticket for $25. That is a steal, so check it out. One of the most famous opera singers in the world, Joyce DiDonato, studied here.

The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD
The Metropolitan (known as The Met, by the way) Opera is a career-defining venue for any performer. You do not need go to NYC to attend. The Met streams many of their performances to movie theaters all over the country.

This is a great way to see the opera. Firstly, The view of the stage is better than any seat in the house. Secondly, movie theater seats are way more comfortable than Met seats. Trust me on this one.

Check out the schedule on their site. The Met’s most recent opera is streams on Saturday afternoon with an encore on Wednesday evening. They stream in 2 theaters in Philadelphia:

University City Penn 6. 4012 Walnut Street , Philadelphia, PA 19104

UA Riverview, 1400 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19147

ConcertOpera Philadelphia
I have never been to this, but it’s  opera music without the the theatrics.  The opera is shown in a concert format.  I am told it is quite intimate, so you get an up close and personal exposure to these artists.

La Traviata in Quito

Last night I went to see La Traviata at Teatro Nacional Sucre in Quito, Ecuador.  I have seen this opera before, and Verdi is easily my favorite composer.  Any chance I get I will try to see a Verdi opera.   Well we showed up at 8:00 pm with the expectation that it would start on time.   Nothing in Ecuador starts on time, but when we came to this same theatre for the Cuban National Symphony, everything started right on time.    Well the clock crept closer and closer to 8:30 we started to get a little annoyed.  We had work the next day.

Then we notice a whisper humming through the cloud, that was clicked followed by the  flanking of two machine gun guards on each side of the balcony.    President Raphael Correa was at the opera with his lovely wife, and a women identified to me as his mother.   There was clearly political ramifications to the visit, as the opera was co-produced by the Korean Ambassador and had 3 very brilliant Korean Opera stars it.  One does not get to revel in the fact they are attending an opera in a small theatre with a head of state.    Pretty kewl indeed.

The opera itself was very impressive.  Maybe my standards have went down a bit, since I have been here (Sorry Ecuador), but I enjoyed it a lot.  There is nothing to write about the set design, it was something comparable to a high school musical production, which made us really focus on the music.   Soo Jin Moon was the soprano who played Violeta, and she was nothing less than incredible.  I absolutely loved her performance.  She has been gifted with a set of lungs that rattled the rafters.   Her final breath was one of those operatic moments that I will never forget.  It was heart wrenching and breath taking in same moment.   I will gladly pay to see this opera diva  perform any time.   It was really nice to get a dose of live opera, because it has been so long since I have been to one.   I wish it would have been something I had not seen in the past, but how many native English speakers can say they have seen a Korean produced opera in Quito, with Spanish subtitles.