Re-Inventing the World of Opera

Steve Adubato goes One-on-One with David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia, who sings the praises of how this world-renowned non-profit has re-invented the way opera is presented.

11/29/18 #2175






"Absolutely beautiful. David Devan, who is the General Director and President of Philadelphia Opera. What were we just listening to? We were listening to We Shall Not Be Moved, which was a new opera we commissioned and performed last year at our O festival. And it's since been to the Apollo in New York and we produced it in Amsterdam in March as well. Whose voice was that? That was John holiday. Amazing countertenor. He actually plays a trans character in the opera that is female-to-male and moves audiences every single time. I want to make sure we give props to whoever was singing. Yeah, no. He's one of the great operatic talents. What makes your Opera Philadelphia so different from some other operas? Yeah... Opera organizations... We're mixing it up. We, you know, really want to ensure that there's a future for the classical arts and that means that there's opportunities to actually change the form so that it has 21st century fingerprints on it. Example? Example... commissioning new work. Like the one we just heard. We've done seven world premieres in three years. Producing things outside the Opera House... that was produced in the Wilma theater and then it went to the Apollo and then it went to a theater in Amsterdam. Just last week we took over the TLA on South Street just beside Jimmy Steaks to do a cabaret opera and then we... That's great. So, you know, just being a part of... part of urban life. More engaged? And not being above it. Yeah. Not, "Hey, we're the opera and you're not." Yeah. And doing things that reflect our time. The opera we just heard, the excerpt from We Shall Not Be Moved is about five African-American youths on the run from some trouble, and they take refuge in the MOVE bomb site from Philadelphia from thirty two years ago and they hear the ghosts of the people that perished. From... Wow. To... as a source of inspiration for them. Those are things that couldn't happen in the 18th century, in the 17th century, when opera was being written. The idea that the MOVE bomb site connected to this opera... I'm just thinking... about the social connections... Completely. ...just powerful. Just in Philly, but then we take it to New York, and then we take it to Amsterdam, and everyone in the audience is like, "Wow, this story is not about Philadelphia, it's about us." It's about us? Yeah. completely. I'm curious about this. What's the whole Netflix model thing? Yeah, so the other thing is that our whole industry is built on this model from the 1950s called the subscription model. So the idea is is you're going to..."