In a slightly scaled-back continuation of its festival format, Opera Philadelphia next season will mount two world premieres in small venues, give the local premiere of a 2016 co-production of Handel’s Semele, and bring in a production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges first performed by the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy, in 2014.

O19, which will run from Sept. 18 to 29, comes with more total performances than there were in O18, but with one fewer production.

In the 2019-20 season’s second half, the company makes a foray into choral music with a Verdi Requiem at the Academy of Music and a Oper Zürich production of Madame Butterfly that aims to portray American colonialism — not Japanese culture — as the exotic force, company leaders said as part of Thursday’s announcement of O19’s artists and repertoire.

The number of works in the festival is being trimmed, said Opera Philadelphia general director and president David B. Devan, in part because the company was “stretched thin,” and also because, from the listener’s perspective, “you had to be a superhero to take it all in.”

“Some worked, some didn’t,” Devan said of the initial phase of the festival, which started in 2017 and succeeded, many say, in expanding the kinds of works that might be brought under the opera rubric.

The company’s annual budget will shrink a bit — to $12.5 million from $15.5 million, Devan said. Of that $12.5 million, about $10 million is forecast to come from philanthropy, with the rest from ticket sales and other earned income.

“The contributed revenue required to make this happen is significant,” Devan said.

Fundraising is ongoing for the annual giving program, for pursuit of working capital totaling between $3 million and $5 million in the next two to three years, and for the beginnings of a planned giving program whose proceeds would form the start of an endowment for the company.

Opera Philadelphia leaders David B. Devan (left) and Corrado Rovaris
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Opera Philadelphia leaders David B. Devan (left) and Corrado Rovaris

The major public fundraiser next season pays tribute to Corrado Rovaris, music director since 2005, who will be recognized for the 20 years since his company debut as a guest conductor in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. At a Sept. 21 gala dinner on stage at the Academy, surrounded by sets for the Prokofiev, the Italian maestro and guests will be serenaded by a singer (yet to be announced) with a recital in his honor.

Devan says the company is attracting interest and support from both a group of donors applauding new work and innovation, and those motivated by more traditional repertoire in the Academy. The 2019-20 season is made of both.

The world premiere of Denis & Katya, with music by Philip Venables and a libretto by director Ted Huffman, runs in the Suzanne Roberts Theatre from Sept. 18 to 29. The chamber opera is based on the story of Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, two Russian teens who in 2016 live-streamed their standoff with police.

The work, being co-commissioned and produced by Opera Philadelphia with Music Theatre Wales and Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, is scored for two voices and four cellos. Two pairs of singers will split 11 performances: Baritone Theo Hoffman and mezzo Siena Licht Miller in one; and baritone Johnny Herford and mezzo Emily Edmonds in the other.

James Darrah
Simona Kessler
James Darrah

Handel’s Semele opens in the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater Sept. 19 in a James Darrah production premiered by Opera Omaha in 2016. Soprano Amanda Forsythe makes her company debut, as Semele, with mezzo Daniela Mack, tenor Alek Shrader, countertenor Tim Mead, bass Alex Rosen, and soprano Sarah Shafer. Gary Thor Wedow conducts.

Rovaris conducts Opera Philadelphia’s first-ever Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges, from Sept. 20 to 29 in the Academy in a production by South African director Alessandro Talevi.

The Opera Philadelphia chorus is featured, along with bass-baritone Zachary Altman, soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer, bass Scott Conner, and tenor Barry Banks. The three princesses are soprano Tiffany Townsend and mezzos Katherine Pracht and Kendra Broom.

Performance artist Joseph Keckler arrives with the world premiere of his new work, Let Me Die, in an Opera Philadelphia partnership with FringeArts. The piece, which was presented as a work in progress in 2015 at Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art, explores death and opera through the use of video and death scenes from dozens of operas. It runs Sept. 21 to 28 at the FringeArts theater.

Sopranos Karen Slack and Rachel Sterrenberg will sing four recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music’s Field Concert Hall, Sept. 21 to 29, in a co-presentation with the school. Repertoire has not been announced.

The co-presenting of operas by Curtis and Opera Philadelphia, a feature of recent seasons, is on hold, an opera company spokesperson said.

Apart from O19, Verdi’s Requiem, which features Opera Philadelphia’s orchestra and chorus led by Rovaris, is slated for performances Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 in the Academy (in Latin with English supertitles). Soloists are soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo Mack, tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson, and bass In-Sung Sim.

The opera company is exploring other choral works for future seasons, Rovaris said.

Opera Philadelphia will perform Puccini's Madame Butterfly in the 2019-20 season in a production, shown here, premiered by Zurich Opera in 2017.
Toni Suter
Opera Philadelphia will perform Puccini's Madame Butterfly in the 2019-20 season in a production, shown here, premiered by Zurich Opera in 2017.

Puccini’s Madame Butterfly closes the season in the Academy April 24 to May 3, 2020, in a 2017 Oper Zürich production by Huffman that aims to address head-on the questions of cultural appropriation that come with the work. Devan said the company spent several years casting singers who are Asian or of Asian descent, including soprano Eri Nakamura as Cio-Cio-san. Tenor Bryan Hymel takes the role of Pinkerton, and Rovaris conducts.

An announcement of the company’s annual free Opera on the Mall broadcast is expected in the spring.

Notably at a time when the level of women in leadership roles is drawing scrutiny, Opera Philadelphia’s 2019-20 season does not include work by any women composers, conductors or directors — “an unfortunate part of the way this season came together,” said opera company spokesperson Frank Luzi.

He said that Ksenia Ravvina is co-creator and dramaturge of Denis & Katya, and she has worked closely with the composer and librettist on the piece. Additionally, the music director for the work is Emily Senturia (though she won’t be conducting).

Plus, Luzi said, three works by female composers are expected to come to fruition in the following two or three seasons.

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