It’s been a while since the word festival has been on anyone’s agenda, but this weekend Philadelphians will be able to experience one once again.
Opera Philadelphia will be holding Festival O from Friday, May 1 until Friday, May 29, and this digital extravaganza will feature five incredible productions, four of which are recent world premieres.
“The unprecedented social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized the performing arts community, sparking generous artist relief funds and online expressions of creativity as we all navigate this challenging time in our history, and look forward to once again gathering together for the shared experience of music and art,” said David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia in the release. “Digital Festival O, which premieres when we had been scheduled to gather at the Academy of Music for a live production of ‘Madame Butterfly,’ celebrates the joy so many singers, musicians, composers, librettists, conductors, directors and designers have brought into our lives through these new operas and productions, giving us an opportunity to share in the power of music and theater while reminding us that we will all gather together again in the future. It is our hope to see everyone in September at Festival O20, but until that time, Festival O stands for Online.”
Philadelphians will be able to stream the virtual masterpieces through YouTube and operaphila.org and can even join in on a special opening night celebration featuring content such as pre-show interviews with artists. According to the release, after the digital premieres, each opera will remain available on-demand for varying lengths of time through Aug. 31, 2020.
The first stream available will be ‘Denis & Katya’ (music by Philip Venables and libretto by Ted Huffman) which premiered last year at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival 019. The timely and immersive multimedia performance was inspired by the true story of 15-year-old runaways Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who became viral on social media when they live-streamed the armed stand-off with Russian Special Forces that eventually led to their own deaths. ‘Denis & Katya’ will be premiering on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 1, at 8 p.m.
Next up on the operatic agenda is ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ (music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph), which was first presented at a sold-out world premiere at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O17. The story follows five North Philadelphia teen runaways and their confrontation with the local police, and is officially described as a timely exploration of national identity, race, gender, personal responsibility and the limits of the public education system. ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ will stream on YouTube and at operaphila.org on Sunday, May 10, at 7 p.m. According to the release, as an extra special treat, on Sunday, May 10, at 2 p.m., WHYY-TV12 will also present a special broadcast of ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ for audiences throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. This acclaimed opera will also be broadcasted for students on WHYY’s secondary channel Y2 on Friday, May 15, at 1 p.m.
The third performance slated for the digital festival will be ‘The Barber of Seville’ (music by Gioachino Rossini and libretto by Cesare Sterbini.) The re-vamped show was created in collaboration with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and first hit the stage at the Academy of Music during their 40th anniversary season. The vibrant and colorful performance features eclectic sets and costumes and draws inspiration from the comic films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. ‘The Barber of Seville’ will stream on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 15, at 8 p.m.
The fourth performance will be ‘Sky on Swings’ (music by Lembit Beecher and libretto by Hannah Moscovitch), which first premiered at Festival O18. The opera was unveiled on the eve of World Alzheimer’s Day in 2018 and follows a complicated yet inspirational journey of Alzheimer’s disease. The poignant show will stream on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 22, at 8 p.m.
The final opera that will be available to stream later this month will be ‘Breaking the Waves’ (music by Missy Mazzoli and libretto by Royce Vavrek), which first premiered as the launch of Opera Philadelphia’s fall 2016-2017 season. According to the release, the show was adapted from Lars von Trier’s searing Oscar-nominated film and depicts a tragedy of conflicting ethical imperatives that serves as a meditation on the nature of goodness. ‘Breaking the Waves’ will be available on YouTube and operaphila.org on Friday, May 29, at 8 p.m.
The online festival will not only offer a much-needed creative stimulation and escape for viewers, but it will also offer the opportunity to raise vital funds for Opera Philadelphia, who must raise $4 million by May 31 in order to move forward with plans for the 2020-2021 season.
To learn more about Opera Philadelphia and Festival O, visit operaphila.org.