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Opera Philadelphia resets 3 new works composed by women


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Opera Philadelphia has rescheduled three new works composed by women that were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rene Orth’s “10 Days in a Madhouse” will be given its world premiere on Sept. 21 in the opening of the company’s O23 Festival, and Jennifer Higdon’s “Woman with Eyes Closed” has been rescheduled for September 2024 and will run alongside the U.S. premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s “The Listeners.”

Opera Philadelphia announced its O23 Festival and 2023-24 schedule on Tuesday along with some details of its O24 Festival, which starts the company’s 50th anniversary season.

“Our long tradition of developing new work and showcasing American composers with a certain amount of vitality, I think that really speaks to the time in terms of what we’re seeing across the country in terms of things that are people are connecting with,” Opera Philadelphia general director David Devan said.

Inspired by a real-life story by Nellie Bly published in 1887, Orth’s opera has a book by Hannah Moscovitch and stars Kiera Duffy and Will Liverman in a co-commission with Toronto’s Tapestry Opera. Daniela Candillari conducts and Joanna Settle directs.

There will be five performances through Sept. 30 at the 296-seat Wilma Theater.

Orth, 37, began composing the work in 2018. It is scored for 12 instruments plus electronics and was delayed one year by the pandemic.

“I had never heard of Nellie Bly before,” Orth said. “I was scrolling on social media. Someone had posted an article and I just read through it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a gold mine for opera.’ It checked all the boxes for me. I’m really drawn to strong female characters and social justice.”

Higdon’s composition originally was scheduled for its world premiere in Philadelphia in September 2020, then was twice postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Higdon, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music and a three-time Grammy Award winner, worked with librettist Jerre Dye for the 80-minute chamber work, a fictionalized account inspired by the theft of seven artworks from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

There are three different endings, and one will be picked before each performance. The work stars contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Kevin Ray, mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron and bass Wei Wu.

Mazzoli’s “The Listeners,” a thriller about social rejection with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, had its world premiere at the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo last September. Its cast includes baritone Troy Cook, soprano Lindsey Reynolds, bass Kevin Burdette and mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell. It is a co-commission with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The 2023-24 season includes a new-to-Philadelphia production of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” from the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, Belgium, opening at the Academy of Music on Sept. 22 and starring soprano Ana María Martínez and baritone Quinn Kelsey. There also is a new staging of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” by director Aria Umezawa and starring Karen Chia-ling Ho that starts on April 26, 2024.

“The Anonymous Lover,” a 1780 work by Joseph Bologne, believed to be the first Black classical composer, will be given a semi-staged production at the Academy of Music on Feb. 2 and 4.

“This provided us an opportunity to do a piece that people didn’t know, and that provides opportunities for the company to connect with artists and community,” Devan said. “It’s semi-staged because we’re just taking our time getting back to things fully fledged in the opera house and that is proving thus far to be the right choice.”

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