Every frame a song

Opera Philadelphia presents Festival O22: Opera on Film

2 minute read
Granner in a judicial robe, on his knees at a desk, soft light cast on him. A blackboard behind him has Latin written on it.
Nathan Granner performs in 'Goodbye Mr. Chips.' (Photo courtesy of Opera Philadelphia.)

One of the by-products of the pandemic shutdown was that resourceful artists, producers, and presenters found and navigated myriad virtual performance by-ways. Among these ardent companies was Opera Philadelphia, which created their Opera Philadelphia Channel, and the company has employed it consistently and creatively.

Stage on screen

The company’s Festival O22, filled with ambitious and striking staged productions, has added an Opera on Film series to take advantage of these new resources. Screened at the Philadelphia Film Center, the six-day series is packed with productions ranging from shorts to full-length operas, both new and classic, some created for television.

The festival received over 800 submissions this year, ultimately featuring 30 films over 12 screenings—both full-length operas and “shorts.” O22 opens on September 27 with Soldier Songs, a remarkably affecting 2021 film that I reviewed last year. Nominated for a Grammy, the film sets David T. Little’s opera on the Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford and stars baritone Johnathan McCullough, who also directed. This screening is followed by a talk with the artists, as is the September 30 world premiere screening of director E. Elias Merhige and composer Gavin Gamboa’s sci-fi opera Polia & Blastema.

Other full-length classics include Joseph Losey’s 1979 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a “sinister and sumptuous” production shot near Venice with Ruggero Raimondi and Kiri Te Kanawa. And there’s Robert Townsend’s 2001 Carmen: A Hip Hopera, the genre-bending MTV adaptation of Bizet’s work that’s set in Philadelphia. Its recording-artist cast includes Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, and others, including Beyoncé in her acting debut as Carmen. The film opened to mixed reviews, but two decades later it has a loyal following.

More in story

New full-length screen productions include The Copper Queen, with music by Clint Borzoni, libretto and screenplay by John de los Santos, and direction by Crystal Manich. A stage production delayed during the pandemic, the ghostly opera (Arizona Opera’s inaugural film project) is set in a hotel that hearkens back to the gold rush.

Goodbye Mr. Chips sees a new work reimagined for this 2021 film. Gordon Getty’s opera is based on James Hilton’s popular 1934 novella, the affecting story of a teacher at an all-boys English boarding school. The film, directed by Brian Staufenbiel, stars tenor Nathan Granner as Mr. Chips.

A fascinating 80-minute double feature pairs James Darrah’s 2021 La Voix humaine (starring Patricia Racette) with Pedro Almódovar’s 2020 The Human Voice (starring Tilda Swinton). And there are lots more, including three “shorts” offerings each lasting about 90 minutes and bursting with operatic riches. For instance, one showing titled The Opera We Made, showing September 30, features five short operas, including Tyshawn Sorey’s Save the Boys (with countertenor John Holiday and pianist Grant Loehnig); Caroline Shaw’s We Need to Talk (with soprano Ariadne Greif); and The Island We Made, a lullaby created by composer Angélica Negrón, drag superstar Sasha Velour, and filmmaker Matthew Placek.

What, When, Where

Festival O22: Opera on Film. $7-11 per film; $25 for an all-access badge. Opera Philadelphia. September 27 through October 2, 2022, at Philadelphia Film Center, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 732-8400 or operaphila.org.

At Philadelphia Film Center, proof of vaccination is no longer required and masking is optional, but both are strongly recommended.


The Philadelphia Film Center is wheelchair accessible. Get additional accessibility information at filmadelphia.org.

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