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Opera Philadelphia's 2024-25 season: from Mazzoli to Mozart

Soprano Nicole Heaston stars as Claire Devon, a middle-class mother living in a southwestern U.S. suburb, in The Listeners, a new opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek.
Erik Berg
/
Opera Philadelphia
Soprano Nicole Heaston stars as Claire Devon, a middle-class mother living in a southwestern U.S. suburb, in The Listeners, a new opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek.

When The Listeners, a poignant opera by Missy Mazzoli, had its world premiere at the Norwegian National Opera in 2022, viewers worldwide tuned in to a performance streamed on the OperaVision platform. Among them was New Yorker classical critic Alex Ross, who dashed off an assessment on his blog, The Rest Is Noise: “My quick first impression is of a potent, chilling, and excruciatingly relevant work, perhaps comparable in impact to Kaija Saariaho's Innocence.” He added: “Opera Philadelphia and the Lyric Opera of Chicago are the co-commissioners, and I look forward to seeing the opera live at one company or the other.”

Ross, and the rest of us, will have that opportunity this fall: the North American premiere of The Listeners will kick off Opera Philadelphia’s 2024-25 season, with performances at the Academy of Music on Sept. 25, 27 and 29. The opera features a libretto by Royce Vavrek, who also worked with Mazzoli on her previous Opera Philadelphia premiere, Breaking the Waves, in 2016. Mazzoli, who grew up in Lansdale, Pa., is especially looking forward to presenting the work at the Academy: “I have a really clear memory of being 16 and walking by there, and I was like, ‘One day, I’m going to have my music here,’” she says in a press statement. “And I never have. This production with Opera Philadelphia will be the realization of that dream.”

Based on an original story by the playwright Jordan Tannahill, The Listeners draws inspiration from a mysterious phenomenon called “the global hum,” a persistent low-frequency sound heard by people around the world. In the opera, Claire — a math teacher and suburban mother in the American southwest, played by Nicole Heaston — suffers from the hum, which alienates her from both work and family. She seeks solace in a support group whose leader, Howard Bard, played by Kevin Burdette, gradually seems more and more like a cult leader.

The Listeners, a new opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, makes its American Premiere in September 2024 at the Academy of Music.
Erik Berg
/
Opera Philadelphia
The Listeners, a new opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, makes its American Premiere in September 2024 at the Academy of Music.

“It really unfolds like a psychological thriller that is about the role of charismatic leaders in society,” offers Mazzoli. “It’s about unrecognized female pain — this woman is really suffering, and everyone’s telling her that it’s in her head — and it’s about finding unexpected community and family, finding family in strange places.”

Surveying its societal implications and the scale of its production, Mazzoli adds: “This is truly a grand opera for a massive chorus, massive orchestra, and a lot of amazing soloists.” But on some level, it’s also an intimate family drama — an idea borne out by this scene, when Claire is confronted by her teenage daughter, Ashley, played here by Frøy Hovland Holtbakk (and in the Opera Philadelphia production by Lindsey Reynolds).

The Listeners will be directed at Opera Philadelphia by Lileana Blain-Cruz, recipient of the Drama League’s 2022 Founders Award for Excellence in Directing, and current resident director of Lincoln Center Theater.

Last summer, Opera Philadelphia cut its annual budget by roughly 20%, eliminating five staff positions and postponing one of its scheduled productions. That production — The Anonymous Lover, the only surviving opera by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges — will take place Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 2025.

Kalena Bovell makes her Opera Philadelphia debut conducting Joseph Bologne's 'The Anonymous Lover' at the Academy of Music, Jan. 31 & Feb. 2, 2025.
Jamie Pratt/Jamie Pratt Photos
Kalena Bovell makes her Opera Philadelphia debut conducting Joseph Bologne's 'The Anonymous Lover' at the Academy of Music, Jan. 31 & Feb. 2, 2025.

Directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling and conducted by Kalena Bovell, both making their Opera Philadelphia debuts, The Anonymous Lover will feature a new adaptation by playwright Kirsten Greenidge, combining new English dialogue with the original French. It will star soprano Symone Harcum as Léontine, and South African tenor Khanyiso Gwenxane in his role debut as Valcour. The cast will also include several veterans of past Opera Philadelphia productions — baritone Johnathan as Ophémon, tenor Joshua Blue as Colin, and mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce as Dorothée — along with soprano Ashley Marie Robillard as Jeanette.

The season will close next spring with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Alison Moritz, following its premiere this summer at Cincinnati Opera. Timothy Murray, an Academy of Vocal Arts graduate, makes his Opera Philadelphia debut in the title role, while soprano Olivia Smith, a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, makes her company debut as Donna Anna. Soprano Elizabeth Reiter, a Curtis alum, makes her Opera Philadelphia return as Donna Elvira. Bass-baritone Nicholas Newton makes his Opera Philadelphia debut in the role of Leporello. American soprano Amanda Sheriff will perform the role of Zerlina, and baritone Kevin Godínez, an AVA resident artist, will perform as Masetto. American bass Raymond Aceto also makes his company debut as the Commendatore.

Corrado Rovaris, Opera Philadelphia’s Jack Mulroney Music Director, characterizes the new season as a meeting of old and new. “In the 2024-2025 Season,” he says in a statement, “Opera Philadelphia will continue to bring beloved classics, rare gems, and modern masterpieces to the Academy of Music stage, championing and advancing the art form for our community.”

For more information about Opera Philadelphia and its 2024-25 season, visit its website.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.