Move Over Sundance and Spoleto...Here Comes Festival O

Oct 21, 2015

Opera Philadelphia is celebrating its 40th birthday by announcing the boldest change of its history. The company has just unveiled the creation of an annual season-opening opera festival - Festival O - premiering in September of 2017 with O17. It's modeled after two highly successful American festivals - Sundance in Park City, Utah and Spoleto in Charleston, SC. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports.

Radio script:

David Patrick Stearns: It's really going to be different. Opera Philadelphia's Festival O, in September 2017, will be 12 packed days of performances spread over six venues, including two world premieres involving the likes of composer Kevin Puts and choreographer Bill T. Jones, a recital by Metropolitan Opera diva Sondra Radvanovsky, and Mozart's The Magic Flute.

It's about more daring creativity, says General Director David Devan, and binge consumption. The idea is that while listeners are in opera-going mode, they'll take bigger chances, too.

David Devan: My job as a curator is to curate excellent experiences in every possible way that really excites artists. And artists pass that on to the audience. It's going to have the most lasting impact on the art we produce. 

DPS: The concentration of activity will hopefully draw out-of-town audiences, as did last spring's Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD opera.

For all his talk of artistry, Devan saw that Opera Philadelphia wasn't growing in ways that promised long-term sustainability. More than ever before, he'll be going beyond the Academy of Music, which only accommodates one project at a time. But the old guard, says Devan, won't be left behind. There will be  other productions later on in the season, and a new ticket system will allow more personal attention.

DD: People who want to see opera at the Academy of Music...they can subscribe, can hang onto their seats. People can pick their own set of experiences, and I think that's the key to moving forward. 

DPS: But even The Magic Flute - imported from the Komische Oper Berlin, reflecting Devan's newly forged partnerships in Europe - will be full of state-of-the-art computer animation. 

DD: I saw it in Berlin. I was sitting with Maestro Rattle. Simon Rattle. We both went crazy for it. It is almost like a silent film meets David Lynch meets Alice in Wonderland. 

DPS: Will Philadelphia be able to take it all in? Will it have time for Festival O? Heaven forbid - it might be as frantic as New York!
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Opera Philadelphia's first annual Festival O - O17 - takes place from September 14 - 25, 2017, when the company and its collaborators will offer more than 25 performances at multiple venues across Philadelphia.