Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Kimmel Center puts its weight and $$ behind Opera Philadelphia’s O18 festival

The Kimmel gifts some momentum to Opera Philadelphia's $75 million, five-year drive to fund its annual opera festival and the company generally.

The operatic takeoff  Stephanie Blythe performed last season at TLA on South Street will be reprised as part of the O18 festival.
The operatic takeoff Stephanie Blythe performed last season at TLA on South Street will be reprised as part of the O18 festival.Read moreElizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer

In a new partnership, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts will join Opera Philadelphia as a copresenter of the O18 opera festival this fall.

The deal gives the opera company a break on rental fees for mounting Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in the Academy of Music and the world premiere of Sky on Swings by composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch in the Perelman Theater. It also forgives the opera company's remaining debt to the Kimmel for the last festival, O17.

The total value of cost breaks to the opera company comes to about $350,000. This year's festival is slated for Sept. 20 to 30.

The new copresenting relationship may seem like inside baseball in that it does not directly affect what audiences hear and see. But, in fact, Opera Philadelphia sees the Kimmel contribution as a vote of confidence in the future of its new festival format, which it rolled out last season. The opera company is just at the beginning of raising $75 million for operating support and working capital for the entire company, and the Kimmel's in-kind contribution, though just $350,000, is among the first steps in ensuring that the festival can continue for the next five years.

The support comes at a critical time, according to opera company general director and president David B. Devan. "I don't know what the glide path [for future funding] would have looked like without it," he said.

>> READ MORE: Opera Philadelphia adds a new dimension to O18 festival – an indie film to expand on an opera

For the Kimmel, the motivation for giving up a substantial chunk of revenue stems in part from the center's mission to support its resident companies, and to remind donors that when they are supporting the Kimmel, they are giving to more than just a building.

Moreover, it is a way for the Kimmel to invest in a potential new business model that could be adopted by other companies.

"To us, what the opera company is doing with the festival is really exciting," says Kimmel Center president and CEO Anne Ewers. "I think this is going to transform the opera industry. And part of our mission is to encourage innovation and risk-taking."

Ewers says giving up $350,000 means some sacrifice. It will be covered by deferring some of the Kimmel's capital and operational expenses, with the exact line items yet to be determined.

"It's a struggle," says Ewers, "but where there's a will there's a way."

The new festival format was originally underwritten by $15 million in philanthropic support that took Opera Philadelphia several years to raise. Now the company is raising the next block of funding — $75 million, of which $5.8 million in pledges have been so far committed through 2023 (that figure does not include the Kimmel's in-kind gift).

The O17 festival was a break in how Opera Philadelphia's season had long been formatted, concentrating many of the season's most innovative and newsworthy productions into a 10-day period in the fall. The idea was to create a critical mass of premieres, new productions, and genre-bending experiences in both traditional and unusual venues that could attract locals before the main arts season begins, as well as out of town operaphiles.

>> READ MORE: Philly's first-ever O17 opera fest wins new fans, national acclaim

For O17, 35 percent of festival buyers who bought tickets to two or more shows came from beyond a 70-mile radius, according to opera spokesperson Frank Luzi. The inaugural festival generated 150 digital and print reviews and 650 previews, he said. That puts the Kimmel at the center of substantial national and international attention.

And, says Ewers: "It really puts the spotlight on Philadelphia."