Philadelphia will have no Opera on the Mall or “O” opera festival this fall. Just one live operatic concert is planned with the start of the season, with several to come later, including a Rigoletto at the Academy of Music next spring. And a generous slate of online productions will continue.
These are the contours of Opera Philadelphia’s 2021-22 season as the company works around what everyone hopes is the tail end of the pandemic. While the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and other arts groups plan to have busy live-concert schedules this fall, opera demands greater safety guidelines, says Opera Philadelphia president and general director David B. Devan.
Given the scale of opera and the density of artists on stage, the company opted for a few live performances, as safety protocols allow, “and to continue the artistic exploration of cinematic opera,” he said.
Just one live operatic event is on the books between now and January: a two-tenor evening of Rossini arias at the Mann Center. The preseason (Aug. 26) concert, dubbed “Amici e Rivali” (Friends and Rivals), features Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee and the opera company’s orchestra and chorus led by Corrado Rovaris. The partnership of the two singers was captured on an album of the same name (Warner Classics, 2020).
The next live event isn’t until six months later with a double bill of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and George Walker’s Lilacs. The Stravinsky stars tenor William Burden, bass-baritone Mark S. Doss, and mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell. Walker’s work for soprano and orchestra earned the composer, a Curtis Institute graduate, the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in music. Soprano Tiffany Townsend is soloist. The pieces are paired Jan. 21 and 23 in Verizon Hall.
Rigoletto comes to the Academy for four performances in April and May 2022, in a New Zealand Opera production by director Lindy Hume. Anthony Clark Evans sings the title role, with Raven McMillon as Gilda and Joshua Blue as the Duke of Mantua. Rovaris conducts.
Opera Philadelphia’s splashy signature event, its O festival that concentrates numerous productions into a couple of weeks, won’t happen in the coming season, but Devan says he anticipates that it will be back in the fall of 2022 (as “O22″).
“The hesitancy around travel, the hesitancy around audiences coming back — it didn’t seem responsible to put dense programming in dense venues. It just wasn’t the right time.”
As for the fate of Opera on the Mall, the company’s free, annual outdoor screening on Independence Mall, it also won’t happen this fall, and the tradition is being rethought altogether. Whether that means a continuation of Opera on the Mall, extending outdoor presentations into neighborhoods, or both, isn’t yet known.
“We are in conversations with a number of communities in the city to see if maybe there is a different way to engage our community in a more equitable way,” says Devan.
Digital presentations, in a mix of premieres and encore presentations both free and paid, are streaming continuously on the company’s channel. The Drama of Tosca, produced live at the Mann recently, premieres online June 17. In July, pipe organs and choruses join forces in “Organ Stops,” which pairs traditional choruses from operas with new works by Hannah Kendall, Melissa Dunphy, Marcus DeLoach, and David Hurd.
Next season, a film version of Poulenc’s La voix humaine with soprano Patricia Racette directed by James Darrah premieres in September. Glass Handel, the vehicle for countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo unveiled at the Barnes Foundation during O18, streams in October in a film version captured during its run at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimarrón premieres in November in a film starring bass-baritone Sir Willard White.
Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, Verdi’s La traviata with Lisette Oropesa in her role debut as Violetta, David T. Little’s Soldier Songs, and other filmed works will continue to be offered on Opera Philadelphia’s channel.
The company sees the channel as an audience development tool. About 40% of online subscribers never purchased anything from Opera Philadelphia before, says Devan, “so maybe they will want to see something live as well.”
Tickets for live and online performances will continue to be available separately, but the Opera Company has assembled subscription options with a discount for buying both.
“The question is, if you’ve got some local people that bought [online film] The Island We Made because of [drag performer] Sasha Velour, is there an opportunity for them to come to Rigoletto? Let’s find out.”
Opera Philadelphia: operaphila.org, 215-732-8400.