For the first time ever, this year’s Opera Philadelphia Festival is hoping to appeal to a wider range of audiences—by bringing opera to Philly’s most iconic sites.
Dubbed O17, the 12-day festival will feature 31 performances in places like the Barnes Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a first for Opera Philadelphia, whose main stage is at the historic Academy of Music on Broad Street.
“We want to be of the city, not above the city,” says David Devan, Opera Philadelphia’s artistic director. “Philly is the perfect intersection of sophistication and grit. And that’s what makes it the perfect place for this festival.”
It’s a new direction for the opera company, which Devan says has spent the past five years researching, planning, and executing this particular festival. As one of the more contemporary-leaning opera companies out there, Opera Philadelphia came up with what Devan calls a “Netflix experience binge festival” concept.
“We’re taking a cue from the best of television and putting all of our progressive ideas in one festival,” yet in multiple places, says Devan.
Those places include some of the most-visited venues and cultural institutions in the city. One of the most easily accessible “stages” will of the festival will be Independence Mall, where Opera Philadelphia will broadcast a free screening of The Marriage of Figaro. Devan says, “Independence Mall is one of the most iconic places in America. [...] For a lot of people, they go to the Mall and that’s their opera experience for the year.”
Opera on the Mall has been a mainstay of the company for the past few years. It used that site as a jumping off point to consider other important assets of Philly, says Devan. One of the institutions that came to mind was the Barnes Foundation.
The world premiere of Wake World by David Hertzberg will take place here, moving throughout the museum. Hertzberg was inspired by the mind of Dr. Albert Barnes to create his opera.
Further up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will set the stage for another interactive opera called War Stories, which will make use of the Grand Hall Staircase and the armor room.
But these cultural institutions won’t be the only places setting the stage for the festival. Other shows will take place in the theaters up and down Broad Street, including the Wilma Theater, which will showcase the premiere of We Shall Not Be Moved. This performance is perhaps the most Philly-centric of the festival in that it tells the story of five Philly teens on the run who find solace in abandoned house in West Philly on the site of the infamous MOVE bombing.
“We Shall Not be Moved is very centric to Philadelphia, but there’s a broader meaning that the world can relate to today,” says Devan.
The Opera Philadelphia Festival runs from September 14 to 27.
- O17 [Opera Philadelphia]