Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O22 puts Philly center stage

Festival 022
Festival 022 will feature composer David T. Little’s ‘Black Lodge’.
Film still by Matthew Soltesz courtesy of Beth Morrison Projects

Opera Philadelphia has created a celebration of multiplicity, where newly commissioned multi-media operas, modern twists on treasured classics, freshly curated opera films and cabaret performances meld into one experience.

Festival O22 – created by Opera Philadelphia President and General Director David B. Devan – will run Sept. 21 through Oct. 2 at various venues across the city and features a new adaptation of Rossini’s ‘Otello’ (with a libretto by Francesco Berio de Salsa after William Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’, starring Khanyiso Gwenxane in his U.S. debut), composer Toshio Hosokawa’s take on Poe’s ‘The Raven’, done as a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and 12-piece chamber orchestra, and composer David T. Little’s ominous ‘Black Lodge’ with poet-librettist Anne Waldman.

“At Opera Philadelphia, especially in time for our O Fests, we like to interrogate and explore,” says Devan, adding that while no O Fest has a specific theme in its curation, there is a vibe to each new celebration of opera. “We’re looking for performers and creatives to do their most important, ardent work, which we then harness for the virtuosic capacity of opera, so to take us out of our everyday life. With every Festival 0, you’re going to see that we’re not just coming from a single curatorial vision – there’s no magic room we walk into and be dogmatic about our programming – but rather, there is a dialogue with artists that we think have something to say.”

And audiences that are thrilled to hear them.

Add in its Afternoons at AVA Recitals with current and future opera stars featuring Academy of Vocal Arts alums Latonia Moore and André Courville, Bearded Ladies’ Late Night Snacks adventures with divas and doyennes of the opera, drag and cabaret world, and a dozen different Opera on Film screenings and Festival 022 proves to be as eclectic as it is engaging.

Bearded Ladies’ Late Night SnacksCass Meehan

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, who portrays Desdemona in this new rendition of ‘Otello’, calls Opera Philadelphia her artistic home, cherishes the trust given her by the company’s staff and creatives, and calls doing this fresh Shakespearian work “one of my bucket list roles.”

In regard to the deconstructed and dark edges of Hosokawa’s ‘The Raven’, mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi calls the new opera, “a difficult and daunting piece, but dramatically it is super cool and it’s exciting bringing Poe’s 18 stanza poem to life in such an original, brilliant new concept.”

Choi also says that this Raven has a “spooky Japanese horror movie feel to it,” whose utter weirdness makes it perfect for Festival 022’s outsider edginess.

“There are a lot of textures and ways in which to approach the text,” says Choi, including conductor Eiki Isomura and the inspiration of Japanese Noh theater in the mix. “Eiki always has cultural aspects to add when it comes to the staging too. It’s nice to have such collaborative colleagues.”

Devan calls this new ‘Raven’ a virtuosic performance in a magnetic, modernist rendition. “Kristin and her colleagues have really hit the mark for this,” he says, including Isomura, as well as local performers  Ang(ela) Bey, Pax Ressler and Vitche Boule-Ra.

“This ‘Raven’ really occupies a space of discovery and surprise,” says Devan.

So too does David T. Little’s industrial rock opera tinged with the inspiration of film auteur David Lynch and Beat futurist author William S. Burroughs promise dark discovery and innovation. As for a piece such as Rossini’s ‘Otello’, it is the rarity of its performance — “it is not exactly within the usual opera repertoire” — that makes its O Fest debut so unique.

Devan adds that all this, collectively, can take Opera Philadelphia and its O Fests, “into some very weird and strange places, because we’re doing what the artists themselves want to do. That is what we’re advocating, always, for our company and our O Fests.”

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