Opera Philadelphia head to retire, and postpone 2023-24 production to save money

Opera Philadelphia
Opera Philadelphia

By RONALD BLUM Associated Press

David Devan will retire next spring as head of Opera Philadelphia following 13 years as general director and has postponed one of this season’s productions to balance the company’s budget.


In addition, music director Corrado Rovaris was given a three-year contract extension through 2026-27.

Opera Philadelphia made the announcements Tuesday ahead of its 2023-24 opening night on Sept. 21, the pandemic-delayed world premiere of Rene Orth’s “10 Days in a Madhouse.”

Devan, who is 60, has been with the company since 2006 and headed it since 2011. His contract expires May 31 and he felt “the need to allow new leadership to come up with the answers.”

“A bunch of 60-, 70-year-olds figuring out the future is probably not the most robust way of doing it as a leader,” he said in a telephone interview.

“The Anonymous Lover,” a 1780 work by Joseph Bologne who is believed to be the first Black classical composer, was postponed to 2024-25. It was to have been a semi-staged production at the Academy of Music on Feb. 2 and 4.

That decision will save $750,000 among $2 million in budget cuts that included a 16% personnel reduction. The 2023-24 budget will be $11.3 million, down from $11.9 million last season, when ticket sales totaled $1.57 million.

The only stagings at the Academy of Music this season will be four performances of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1 and four performances of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” from April 26 to May 5. The “Anonymous Lover” had been scheduled for Feb. 2 and 4.

“I think the hardest thing for everybody in the field is the fatigue from managing through COVID is still present. And then you couple into it all the predictive stuff you used before doesn’t work,” Devan said. “What we’ve seen is definitely the people that used to come and buy a lot are not buying as much. They’re being more selective. We do see older people opting out entirely and we’ve also seen a surge of new customers.”

Habits of the new customers are different.

“That new audience isn’t going to behave like their parents. They’re not going to become subscribers,” Devan said. “So we have to figure out what the system is to deal with this customer change.”

“10 Days” will have five performances through Sept. 30 at the 296-seat Wilma Theater in the opening of the company’s O23 Festival. “Unholy Wars,” with music by George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi and Mary Kouyoumdjian, has four performances at the 365-capacity Suzanne Roberts Theatre from Sept. 23-Oct. 1. There are also five September recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Academy of Vocal Arts.

Rovaris, 58, has been music director since 2005.