Press Room

Opera Philadelphia’s 2015-16 Season Pairs Trio of Classics with East-Coast Premiere of Higdon’s Cold Mountain & World Premiere of ANDY: A Popera

Opera Philadelphia’s 41st season serves as a reminder that the company is, as the Washington Post reports, “taking chances, offering unusual and new work along with repertory staples, and carving out a place for themselves as proponents of American opera.” As General Director & President David B. Devan and Music Director Corrado Rovaris announced today, the carefully curated 2015-16 lineup offers two new American operas: the East Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, starring the dream team of Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, and Jay Hunter Morris (Feb 2016), and the season-launching world premiere of ANDY: A Popera, a Warhol-inspired opera-cabaret featuring music by Dan Visconti (Sep 2015). Offsetting this cutting-edge fare are three undisputed classics. Lisette Oropesa and Alek Shrader headline the American premiere of a new staging of La traviata, complete with an Opening Night Gala and a free, open-air HD broadcast (Oct 2015). The company joins forces with Curtis Opera Theatre to present a new production of Strauss’s Capriccio (March 2016). And company favorites Sarah Shafer, Christopher Tiesi, Craig Verm, and Kevin Burdette draw the season to a comedic close in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (April–May 2016). In recognition of Opera Philadelphia’s innovative thinking, the company was chosen as the only American finalist for the 2015 International Opera Award for Accessibility; as Opera News notes, “Things are looking up, operatically speaking, in the City of Brotherly Love.

“The 2015-16 season at Opera Philadelphia is truly a celebration of the vitality of opera in the 21st century,” explains General Director & President David B. Devan. “This is a season which truly showcases Philadelphia as a hotbed of operatic innovation, ranging from the East Coast premiere of Cold Mountain by Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon to the world premiere of a new work that explores the intersection of opera with the worlds of devised theatre and visual art. It is a tremendous honor to present these new works alongside dynamic productions of classic repertoire like La traviata, Capriccio, and The Elixir of Love.”

“I am so pleased by the wonderful mix of repertoire we will bring to Philadelphia in the 2015-16 Season,” agrees Music Director Corrado Rovaris, who will conduct La traviata, Cold Mountain, and The Elixir of Love. “I love the fact that we have many talented singers making important role debuts with Opera Philadelphia this season. We are also very proud to have Jennifer Higdon’s first opera on our main stage. She writes such wonderful music that speaks to the audience.”

Cold Mountain (East Coast premiere)

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Under the auspices of its American Repertoire Program, in February 2016 Opera Philadelphia presents the East Coast premiere of Cold Mountain, the first opera by Philadelphia native Jennifer Higdon, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. Based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Charles Frazier, Higdon’s score is composed to a libretto by Gene Scheer, of Moby-Dick and An American Tragedy fame. A major new co-commission and co-production with the Santa Fe Opera and Minnesota Opera, Cold Mountain – one of the “most anticipated world premieres ahead” (NPR) – tells a compelling story of love, honor and determination. As the American Civil War is coming to an end, soldier W. P. Inman deserts the Confederate Army, walking across the state from his hospital room in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his home at Cold Mountain. Recalling Homer’s Odyssey, the journey is arduous and Inman endures many hardships on his quest to be reunited with his beloved, Ada Monroe. Speaking to the story’s widespread appeal, the 2003 film adaptation of Frazier’s novel scored no fewer than seven Academy Award nominations.

Starring as the opera’s protagonist is Grammy Award-winning baritone Nathan Gunn, who has already created a quartet of new roles: Clyde Griffiths in Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, Father Delaura in Péter Eötvös’s Love and Other Demons, Alec Harvey in André Previn’s Brief Encounter, and Paul in Daron Hagen’s Amelia. Indeed, it was Gunn’s dedication to new opera that led to his appointment as director of Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program, and he has longstanding ties with the company, having previously appeared in productions of The Rape of Lucretia (2009), Pearl Fishers (2004) and Così fan tutte (2003 & 1996). “I think Cold Mountain is going to be THE great American operatic work,” the baritone confides. “The music is beautiful and amazingly dramatic in scope.”

Singing opposite him in her house debut as Ada is Isabel Leonard, a 2014 Grammy Award-winner for Thomas Ades’s The Tempest (Best Opera Recording) and recipient of the 2013 Richard Tucker Award. “Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is a beautiful story filled with history, love, fear, and courage,” the soprano agrees. “Jennifer Higdon and Gene Scheer have now turned that story into an incredible musical journey and I cannot wait to share it with the people of Philadelphia.

Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who creates the role of the villainous Teague, has been in the international spotlight for his portrayal of Siegfried in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Wagner’s Ring, and for his “manic intensity” (San Francisco Chronicle) as Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. “The greatest moments, for me, are when I get to sing new music,” he explains. “I love stepping into the character and stepping into the voice for the first time.”

Leonard Foglia, creator of Opera Philadelphia’s East Coast premiere of A Coffin in Egypt, returns to direct, with Music Director Corrado Rovaris conducting the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, in the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music, the oldest U.S. opera venue still used for its original purpose.

It was to foster a new generation of homegrown opera composers, and tell authentically American stories, that Opera Philadelphia launched the American Repertoire Program in 2011. This has already resulted in such success stories as the East Coast premieres of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, and of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, an Opera Philadelphia co-commission starring Frederica von Stade, as well as a staging of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters that built on the success of its New York premiere. June 2015 sees the program yield its first world premiere, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD.

ANDY: A Popera (world premiere)

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Opera Philadelphia opens the coming season in September 2015 with the world premiere of ANDY: A Popera, an opera-cabaret hybrid inspired by the life, fame, and philosophy of pop icon Andy Warhol, with music by Dan Visconti and original songs by Philadelphia’s Heath Allen. Putting singing soup cans, multiple Marilyns, and a lascivious banana on stage with the artist’s mother, Julia Warhola, feminist writer and would-be assassin Valerie Solanas, and contemporary versions of selected Warhol Superstars, including actress Candy Darling and socialite Edie Sedgwick, ANDY explores what the pop artist represents today, and what it means for a man to become a brand. A co-production with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret troupe, the site-specific work evolved over three public stages in pop-up performances and an experimental cabaret series, and has been hailed in development as “strange, smart and entertaining” (Philadelphia Inquirer) and “brave and intriguing” (Philadelphia City Paper).

ANDY constitutes a radical and new collaboration both in form and process. It’s a collision between the devising sensibilities of the Bearded Ladies and the epic sweep and power of the opera world,” said Bearded Ladies Artistic Director John Jarboe. “It feels like an apt collaboration for dealing with an artist as un-dismissible and experimental as Warhol. He dangerously blurred the lines between the high and low, between the art world and the commercial world. We are blurring our own lines with ANDY. We are trying to make opera that insists on its liveness; that is both classical and contemporary.”

“By combining the collaborative rehearsal and creation process of devised theater with the compositional rigor of classical opera, I’m hoping that ANDY will develop into a project that combines the best qualities of both genres into something new and promising,” added composer Dan Visconti, whose music commits a “cheerful and colorful assault on the senses” (New York Times).

This premiere production follows that of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD in June 2015, which marks Opera Philadelphia’s first world premiere since 1976. This reflects the company’s commitment to programming works relevant to the Philadelphia community, and to broadening and diversifying opera’s audience; as radio station WRTI-FM marveled, the company “is clearly not your father’s opera. It’s actually more like your hipster nephew’s opera.”

The development of ANDY: A Popera has been generously supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

La traviata

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Opera Philadelphia remains equally committed to delivering outstanding presentations of the great masterpieces of the traditional opera repertory, not least those of Verdi. Following grand-scale stagings of Nabucco (Sep-Oct 2013) and Don Carlo (April-May 2015), in October 2015 it is with La traviata that Opera Philadelphia looks forward to launching the 41st season at the Academy of Music, with the American premiere of a stylish production by award-winning Scottish director Paul Curran, highlighted by a black-tie Opening Night Gala (Oct 2), and a free HD broadcast in Independence National Historical Park that will mark the company’s fifth annual Opera on the Mall presentation (Oct 3).

When Curran’s production of the beloved opera debuted at the Bucharest National Opera in October 2014, he explained his decision to update its Paris setting to the mid 20th-century:

“I wanted it to have a feeling that was quite contemporary but that made sense with the world of morals of that era of 1840–53, when it was written. … One of the last great conservative waves was the end of the 1950s, going into the 1960s. Just think of the TV show Mad Men. … So, that’s when it’s set. Which I think is far enough away, yet close enough for us to understand.” (Despre Opera blog, Romania)

Having proven herself “a house favorite” who “lights up the stage” (New Yorker) at the Metropolitan Opera, Lisette Oropesa makes her company and role debuts as the doomed courtesan Violetta. “I am really looking forward to exploring the character of Violetta,” the Cuban American soprano says. “She is extremely open-hearted, she takes a huge emotional risk – twice – and she never breaks down or falls apart. The music is very emotional, but the character has an extremely strong center.” Grammy Award-winning tenor Alek Shrader makes his house and role debuts as Alfredo, with baritone Stephen Powell as his father, Giorgio, and Music Director Corrado Rovaris on the podium in the Academy of Music.

Capriccio (new production)

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Since their launch in 2008 with the Philadelphia premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, Opera Philadelphia’s annual co-productions with Curtis Opera Theatre and the Kimmel Center have been recognized as “must-see events for serious operagoers” (Opera News). Marking the collaboration’s ninth season, in March 2016 they join forces once again for a new production of Capriccio, the final opera by Richard Strauss, starring gifted young voices from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.

Capriccio has some of the most stunningly beautiful music that Richard Strauss ever wrote,” said Mikael Eliasen, Curtis Opera Theatre’s Artistic Director. “In particular, the last scene of Capriccio contains Strauss at his most ravishingly erotic and meltingly, gorgeously melodic.”

Representing the newest installment in Opera Philadelphia’s popular Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, Capriccio will be directed by Chas Rader-Shieber in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater – described as “one of the ideal chamber opera venues in the Northeast” (Arts Journal).

This production is funded, in part, through support from the William Penn Foundation.

The Elixir of Love

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When Music Director Corrado Rovaris teamed up with director Stephen Lawless to debut a new staging of The Elixir of Love that transplants the action to the World War II era, the Santa Fe Reporter cautioned:

“Be warned, please: The Santa Fe Opera’s charming, warm-hearted new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love is liable to give you a bad case of those morning-after-the-opera, just-can’t-get-those-tunes-out-of-my-head hangovers. … Much of the credit for this happy state of things belongs to Corrado Rovaris.”

Drawing Opera Philadelphia’s 41st season to a fittingly glorious close, in April and May 2016 Rovaris and Lawless reunite to reprise their hit take on Donizetti’s tender bel canto comedy. Anchoring a talented cast of Opera Philadelphia favorites in the Academy of Music are soprano Sarah Shafer (Ainadamar) as Adina and tenor Christopher Tiesi (Powder Her Face) as Nemorino. A recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Shafer was praised for her “luminous voice” and “intensely expressive interpretations” in the New York Times, and named “a singer to watch” by Opera News. Having already sung Donizetti’s pining peasant at Glyndebourne and Semperoper Dresden, Tiesi has been recognized as “a great find as Nemorino, bringing a gloriously warm and mellow tenor voice to the role which is perfect for the lovelorn fellow” (Daily Express). Baritone Craig Verm, who impressed as Schaunard in 2012’s La bohème, sings Sergeant Belcore, with bass Kevin Burdette, who received rave reviews for his hilarious Dr. Bartolo in 2014’s The Barber of Seville, as the huckster Dulcamara.

Opera Philadelphia is supported by major grants from Wyncote Foundation, The William Penn Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the Knight Foundation. US Airways is the official airline of Opera Philadelphia. Hyatt at the Bellevue is the official hotel of Opera Philadelphia. Burdumy Motors Incorporated is the official automotive dealership of Opera Philadelphia. Opera Philadelphia receives arts funding support through grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and The Philadelphia Cultural Fund

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia creates outstanding productions of both classic and new operatic works that resonate within the community, assembles the finest international creative artists, and presents a wide array of programming that educates, deepens, and diversifies the opera audience in Philadelphia and beyond. Opera Philadelphia is leading the field in the development of new opera. In partnership with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group, the company runs the nation’s first collaborative Composer-in-Residence program, made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with talented composers Lembit Beecher, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and David T. Little each involved in several years of intensive, hands-on work to develop an understanding of the many facets of developing and producing opera. In tandem with the Composer-in-Residence program, the American Repertoire Program is aimed at fostering a new generation of opera composers and telling authentically American stories. It is steered by the American Repertoire Council, a committed group of volunteer advisors overseen by operatic baritone Nathan Gunn. More information is available at


Opera Philadelphia 2015-16 season

Sep 2015
ANDY: A Popera (world premiere)
Co-Production with Bearded Ladies Cabaret
Venue TBD
Music by Dan Visconti, featuring original songs by Heath Allen
Text by John Jarboe with Sean Lally and ensemble
Music Director: Heath Allen*
Director: John Jarboe*

Oct 2, 4m, 7, 9 & 11m, 2015
Verdi: La traviata
Academy of Music
American premiere of production from Bucharest National Opera
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Paul Curran*

Feb 5, 7m, 10, 12 & 14m, 2016
Jennifer Higdon: Cold Mountain (East Coast premiere)
Academy of Music
American Repertoire Program
Co-commission and co-production with The Santa Fe Opera and Minnesota Opera
Libretto by Gene Scheer
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Leonard Foglia

March 2, 4 & 6m, 2016
Richard Strauss: Capriccio
New production of the Curtis Institute of Music presented in association with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Aurora Series: Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater
Conductor: TBD
Director: Chas Rader-Shieber
Curtis Opera Theatre Artistic Director: Mikael Eliasen

April 29, May 1m, 4, 6 & 8m, 2016
Gaetano Donizetti: The Elixir of Love
Academy of Music
Production from The Santa Fe Opera
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Stephen Lawless

*Opera Philadelphia Debut


Media Contacts

Opera Philadelphia: Frank Luzi, [email protected], (215) 893-5902
21C Media Group: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038

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© 21C Media Group, February 2015

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