Picture a night at the opera. Let me guess: large, ornate concert hall, an audience packed with silver hair and deep pockets adorned in their finery, archaic music on an elaborate stage? Well, the Philadelphia Opera Collective wants to erase that image from your mind.
“The Philadelphia Opera Collective was founded few years ago on the basis that opera is not simply empty spectacle or an unrelatable piece of canon that belongs in a museum,” says producer and co-founder Michael Lienhard. “We believe, in fact, that opera is a living, breathing demonstration of real human emotions.”
That feeling is exemplified in the POC’s latest production, a new opera based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe that will premiere as part of the FringeArts festival. The piece is directed by EgoPo Theater’s Brenna Geffers, with music composed by POC co-founder Reese Revak and a libretto culled from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Black Cat” and a selection of his letters on the subject of writing.
Lienhard describes Revak’s music as “hauntingly beautiful” for the “Usher” portion, while it takes on a jazz-oriented, almost vaudeville feel for the black humor-laced “Black Cat.” He likens the structure to Puccini’s triptych opera “Il Trittico,” explaining, “The three pieces are completely dependent upon each other. ‘The Black Cat’ is so raucous that it needs the languid, gothic style of ‘Usher’ to balance it out, and vice versa.”
Because of their mission to expand the reach of opera, Lienhard insists that FringeArts is the perfect setting for the small company’s productions. “Fringe is perfect because opera has always been so polished and clean,” he says. “But we work in very intimate spaces, where the opera singers are really in your face. If you wanted to, you could reach out and touch them. You don’t need a tuxedo to attend our operas.”
The POC faces challenges not only from newcomers to the opera world, with their preconceived notions, but from aficionados who arrive with their own. “Aficionados wonder why we’re not doing ‘La Boheme’ or ‘Carmen’ or Mozart, operas that have been tested through time. But opera has to continue to grow and evolve. People have been reaching out to opera for centuries and we believe now in this century, opera needs to reach back.”
Opera Macabre: Edgar Allan Poe
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