A dialogue about opera…

We at Opera Philadelphia are blessed with amazing performance venues.  Not only do we have the privilege of presenting works in North America’s oldest opera house, the jewel known as the Academy of Music, we also produce works in a smaller theater just a block away. The Perelman Theater, located in the Kimmel Center, seats just 550 people and it’s where we produce our Aurora Series. No other east coast city can boast having a theater this size that produces a sound quality like the Perelman. The Perelman is ideal for experiencing opera on an intimate scale. When you are in the audience you are so close to the stage that you feel like you are part of what is happening on it!

Last week, we presented our annual co-production with the Curtis Institute of Music’s Opera Theatre. This unique collaboration features principal singers and an orchestra made up of student artists from this prestigious and amazing conservatory. Each March, we have collaboratively produced an opera since 2008. Every year I am completely blown away by the prodigy of these incredible students – their command of artistry and their dedication to living the music and characters is always revelatory. And this year was particularly special because the production was Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.

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Photo by Cory Weaver

Poulenc’s work is a modern masterpiece that demands nuanced and mature performances and requires musicianship of the highest order.  In short, the idea of a conservatory taking on this piece is epic. The fact that they all delivered performances that moved our audience to tears, is astonishing.

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Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche and Shir Rozzen as Mme. de Croissy. Photos by Cory Weaver.

But, as I watched this production through rehearsals and performances, another thought occurred to me. The reason I love this collaboration so much is that I get to see the future of opera, now. Every principal artist, every orchestra member, the director, the design team – literally the entire team that conceived and developed this production – were all under the age of 30! And they did it from their perspective, with their aesthetic. We were seeing opera through this millennial generation’s eye (from beginning to end) and it was vital and exciting.

As the production progressed, the setting moved from the 18th century to today. By the end, the nuns could represent oppressed women from any era. They were victims of ideological hate, hate that rages on not only here at home, but around the world. For me, in many ways this production represented the angst of today’s generation experiences about intolerance.  WOW – how insightful is that. 

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Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche and Sarah Shafer as Sister Constance. Photo by Cory Weaver.

If we expect opera (and indeed all the classical arts) to proceed with energy and vitality, we need to let today’s youth tell us a story as they see it, from their perspective. We need to create opportunities for them as a community of artists to speak (or better yet sing or play their instruments) from their hearts. In this way, we involve them in the ongoing dialogue that art provides. And, the starting point for that conversation, is listening. After this last week I am all ears – bring it on.

Final note: Special thanks and shout out to my friend and colleague Mikael Eliasen who believes so deeply in providing the very best opportunities for young, talented people and who creates space for them to find their own path. Bravo!