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O19: A Genuine Festival and an Operatic Feast

Producing one opera is a chore.

Even when, in an unusual course of events, scenery and costumes are minimal, there’s a score, orchestrations, a libretto, the staging, and the delicate but all-consequential relationship between orchestra, singing, and theatrical direction to consider.

Producing four or more operas at once is a gargantuan undertaking.

Doing it with panache, and achieving a four-for-four record is an occasion for celebration.

Opera Philadelphia’s 2019 Opera Festival, O 19, two weeks of program and other activity commencing at the autumnal equinox, lived up its name by being a genuine festival in every way, and even more admirably, delivered as a festival should by presenting four operas of distinctly different forms that showed not only the variety of their art but that art should not be governed by fashion. “Semele,” an 18th century Handel piece structured as an oratorio proves durable and a wonderful contrast to Prokofiev’s 20th century mélange of comedy, tragedy, melodrama, and farce, “The Love for Three Oranges,” and a historical marker by which to offset two also diverse contemporary pieces, also distinct, Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s commentating “Denis & Katya” and Joseph Keckner’s catalog of operatic demise, “Let Me Die.”

Of course, the range of opera goes far beyond O 19’s offerings, only showing the endless versatility and evolving nature of the form.

O 19 did not play it safe. Opera Philadelphia did not anchor its Festival with a classic that can serve as a centerpiece and draw attention to its larger effort. Rather than to Mozart, Verdi, or Puccini, it went to Handel and a work that shows off voices, their flexibility, and their ability to captivate. It gave vibrant life to Prokofiev’s quirky piece that begins with rival segments of an audience demanding drama, comedy, or farce and goes on to deliver all three.

“Denis & Katya,” a world premiere commissioned and co-produced with two other companies, was a surprise. While it tells a strong and moving story, Venables and Huffman’s work is just as interested in exploring the snowballing nature of social media, and the process of writing about a specific subject, as they are in a plot or narrative.

“Let Me Die,” also a world premiere, with FringeArts and others contributing to its development, wittily reveals the result of Joseph Keckner’s study of death, what leads to it, and the method employed to clinch it, in opera. Keckner, in the text of “Let Me Die,” say death is so central to opera, he not only considered the form’s scripted murders, leaps, and last coughs, but included the constant discussion of opera’s death, including the oft-spoken defense, “Opera is alive and well…” as he composed.

O 19 shows opera is alive and well. It is able to occupy four venues — the Academy of Music, the Perelman Theater, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, and FringeArts — and fill them with people who, at all of the performances I attended, responded with enthusiasm and sense of having had a good time. Opera Philadelphia gave out color-coded souvenir buttons as audiences left each performance. I am proud to have all four in the collection and, in the throes of opera addiction, look forward to O 20.

By virtue of “The Star Spangled Banner” being prior to its performance, “The Love for Three Oranges,” presented at the Academy of Music, was regarded as Opera Philadelphia’s official opening of its 2019 season.

Prokofiev’s work, with a libretto by the composer and Vera Janacopoulos and based on a Meyerhold adaptation of a play by Carlo Gozzi, is not your typical centerpiece. Though it comprises elements of several styles of opera, it is too individualistic to represent any. Its plots and characters seem to come from a bet about whether a librettist can incorporate every item in an index of stories and prototypes into one piece, yet it never becomes confusion or turns into a cliché. Alessandro Talevi’s production was grand, large, and colorful with lots of images and lots of movement.

Talevi is smart. He began scenes by feasting on volume and activity but focused sharply when action or a plot twist became pointed or specific. With this pattern, he allowed for scope while keeping important matters and figures clear, so the crazy plot could emerge, almost as if logical, from its carnival-like setting.

Gozzi, as the originator of “The Love for Three Oranges,” explains its zaniness and the style Talevi adopts for presenting it.

Remember the description of the first scene — a chorus representing a theater audience that wants conflicting things for the next attraction. One group runs out from stage right demanding farce. An equally vociferous segment comes on from stage left preferring tragedy. A third group, just as ardent, calls for a comedy, and a fourth for a romance.

To do all of the above would be a stew even Polonius’s list of theatrical forms could not encompass. Yet, that’s exactly what Prokofiev and Janacopoulos do, with Talevi, as director, following suit.

Talevi chooses farce, the tightest and loosest of forms, as his theatrical anchor. Most of the chorus and several of the characters are dressed by costumer Manuel Pedretti in the swirls, stripes, and diamond patterns associated with opera buffo.

And why not? Gozzi, the founder of Prokofiev’s feast, was a master of Italian commedia del arte. Farce as his meat, and his day, Gozzi fought to keep certain traditions of the commedia alive and free from the new-fangled ideas of others.

That diversely insistent chorus were all dressed as if from buffo. So were major characters from the court of the King of Clubs, whose need for an heir that might beget more heirs is the crux and through-line of “Orange’s” story.

Truffaldino, the king’s jester, looks as if he stepped from an 18th century Italian stage. The King and his main advisor, Pantaloon, are more of a cross between commedia and comic operas of a later period.

The Prince and others involved in his story, looks as if they’re both from a different period and a different genre of opera. They, including a parade of magicians, more represent the romance, comedy, and intrigue demanded and look as if they’re from a 19th century love story or from that same period’s Grand Guignol. The main plotters against the Prince, his aunt and the kingdom’s prime minister, look one comic touch away from being posh Victorian. The various times and dramatic styles evoked from the costumes and the characters’ general appearance, lead the way for Talevi to be successful in presenting the cross-cut styles Prokofiev and Janacopoulos build into their show, which was presented in English in a translation by David Lloyd Jones.

The Prince, seen first in open poet’s blouse, long hair flowing poetically, is the focal figure in “Oranges.” To keep the kingdom in his line, he must marry and produce a child.

The Prince we first see is unlikely to do so.

No, he’s not trendily interested in guys or without a romantic bone in his body.

In a hilarious premise, he is seized by hypochondria. The list of ailments the Prince claims to have is as funny as his predicament. That is, if you appreciate the comedy of someone about to perish from his own folly, on death’s doorstep, as a doctor says, but unwilling to let go of one malady or do much more than sleep. In agony, of course.

Though romance and melodrama have reared their heads, the inspired solutions to the Prince’s misery to get him to laugh. No easy matter since he hasn’t so much as chortled at a joke or pratfall in decades. Worse, his aunt, his father’s sister, is plotting to attain the throne for herself, or one of her choosing, and is actively undermining any chance of entertaining the unwilling Prince.

The aunt, Clarissa, enlists sorcerers to help her. She wants magic to guarantee the clowning and instigation of Truffaldino will do no good in amusing the Prince. Hence, another element is introduced, and to Talevi’s credit, the melting pot is doing its job. The different forms and styles are meshing rather than clashing.

It’s a good thing the plot lines and the characters are doing their job, and that Talevi is keeping it all so large and interesting because the one place the director does not delight is in the entertainment he has Truffaldino design for the tense moment when the Prince must giggle or die. Truffaldino ushers large figures on stage. They are rough-hewn and almost ashen. They are meant to provide antics to make the Prince guffaw, no matter how much willpower he exercised against doing so. The problem is the figures are grand but not funny. It fact, they’re off-putting, losing limbs and seemingly rotting away, rather than doing anything that would provoke laughter. There is more relation to the overall production when some figures break giddily into forward rolls, but that causes more admiration than chortles.

In Drama 101 fashion, all looks lost, but the day is saved, not by any of Truffaldino’s outlandish attempts, but when one of the magicians, working for Clarissa against Truffaldino, loses her balance after being pushed by Truffaldino, and falls forward exposing her copious but silly undergarments.

This sight, in addition to the sudden loss of balance, puts the Prince in hysterics. The day is saved by one commissioned to ruin it, but the purpose of going through all of this exposition is to show how masterful Prokofiev is in changing and combining style and how deft Talevi, with a minor lapse made more minor because we’re fascinated with his attempt, appropriately comic or not, is at juggling farce, romance, intrigue, etc. and making it all into one unified, engaging piece.

That legerdemain continues throughout the production which has more bizarre plot twists, including the one that provides the title, a journey to a mysterious castle in the American desert, to find three oranges alleged to be the key to the Prince’s love and happiness.

No matter what style Prokofiev employs, or how perfect the plot of “The Love for Three Oranges” would be for an Anna Russellish comedy act about the libretti of operas, Talevi and his cast is up for the challenge.

The O 19 “Love for Three Oranges” is a constant delight. Theater is always happening. Prokofiev’s music is as lush and all-encompassing as his plot, and for days (including now), one hums the composer’s “March” introduced in this opera.

Talevi’s design crew certainly aids in “Orange’s” enchanting with a variety of styles from a variety of periods. The sorcerers are all in black and looking like the formal mountebanks that would be part of a magic act from the middle of the 19th century through the age of vaudeville. They usually enter from doors halfway between center stage and the right and left wings, They come through doors, but these are usually in the form of ramps opening vertically from the top of the doorway.

It takes a bit of concentration to tell some of the male magicians apart, or the sorcerer Chelio from the prime minister, Leander.

Set designer Justin Arienti was particularly challenged as he had to create everything from a grand place to a bleak desert where one could die from mere exposure. Arienti more than handles anything Talevi can throw at him, cleverly making the overall set into a frame for smaller, more intimate, or side scenes.

Arienti is well-abetted by lighting designer Giuseppe Calabrò, who can create sinister, almost patent-leather black settings for the magicians Chelio and Fata Morgana and then blindingly reflective whiteness for the desert scenes.

So much Arienti, Calabrò, and Pedretti do is so witty, which is keeping with the tone Talevi establishes and also with the mood Prokofiev provides.

Because he mish-mashed so many genres, he needed a score than would be as expansive as his story ideas. Prokofiev is comic — He’d have to be considering his overall creation. — starting the Prince’s laughter with a single, quiet “Hah,” and having it build to euphoria from there. He gives Fata Morgana music that can be thrilling or funny. The Prince runs a gamut of moods, while Clarissa and Leander’s melody often have a sad, bitter tone.

Orchestrally, the range of music, and it fitting the feeling of the time, perhaps providing the feeling of the time, is remarkable. Opera Philadelphia conductor Corrado Rovaris matches the wit Talevi and crew brought to the stage.

“Oranges” was also well-acted and sung. Jonathan Johnson was wonderful at playing the Prince’s hypochondria and kept the Prince’s comme il faut nature as he became happy-go-lucky in renewing his acquaintance with the world and even in setting out on the adventure to find his true love.

Barry Banks was a Truffaldino is true commedia tradition. He strutted the stage like a jester while displaying a wonderful voice and a knack for stage management, as Banks seemed to moving people in line and getting everything organized so the production ran smoothly on-stage.

Zachary James was funny in a slapstick bit in which a cook attempts to protect her treasured possession, the three oranges of the title. Alissa Anderson was cool and collected as the scheming Aunt Clarissa. Wendy Bryn Harmer gave amplitude and sweetly evil charm to Fata Morgana.

“The Love for Three Oranges” was a total treat, visually as well as vocally.

“Semele,” performed at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, was a treat for the ear.

Director James Darrah had an effective production concept. He took literally the scorching of the meadow where Semele’s intended wedding to Athamas is to occur.

Semele is going to the altar involuntarily. She admires Athamas but is in love with the King of the Gods, Jove, who loves her in return and wants her for his bride, mortal though she is.

Part of the wedding ritual is to burn offerings to insure the favor of the gods. Jove goes tradition one further by blasting the forest hosting Semele’s nuptials to bits.

The charred, destructive atmosphere that pervades Darrah’s production makes its point and provides context, but the pleasure comes from listening to a marvelous cadre of singers do justice, by bringing both beauty and texture, to the musical pyrotechnics of George Frideric Handel.

“Semele” has a plot — about love, marriage, longing, jealousy, mortality, misplaced affection, use of power, and revenge, all of the subjects opera seizes as its own — but the plot is secondary to the grand vocal display of Darrah’s exhilarating cast.

Handel’s libretto is based on a play by William Congreve who, one imagines, had much more to say than the quatrains and brief statements Handel’s characters repeat dozens of times, always with a new vocal inflection or musical exercise that takes the familiar to new heights. Dramatically as well as on the musical scale.

“Semele” is basically an oratorio, a series of soloes by primary characters, peppered with some beautifully modulation duets and ensemble numbers. In general, it provides an opportunity for some Opera Philadelphia favorites — Daniela Mack, Alek Shrader, Tim Mead, and Sarah Shafer — to show what earned them their popularity while Alex Rosen and Amanda Forsythe, in the title role, establish their own. Darrah’s staging allows for someone else to emerge as one people look forward to seeing, Lindsey Matheis in an interesting dance performance as one who plays a kind of intervening conscience, or soul, of Semele.

To remind you of the myth, Semele is a human whose graces and virtues attract the attention of Jove, with whom she falls in love, so much so she dreads the upcoming marriage to her father’s choice, Athamas. Jove can take care of himself and make sure Semele remains unwed, but he finds a tougher adversary in the jealous Juno, who is not happy about his liaison with Semele. Juno uses chicanery rather than superpowers to turn matters her way. The result is highly dramatic but ends with a birth to give the piece a reason for celebration at the curtain.

Simplicity has its place. Because one is able to recite the libretto before one motif passes to another, the content and portent of each character’s thought is established. Handel then takes over, providing each voice with a gamut of ways to express their repeated declaration or thought. The outcomes is frets and fireworks, as Franz-Josef says in Shaffer’s “Amadeus,”

The singing was grand all around, but the most excitement came from Daniela Mack, in the dual role of Juno and Ino.   (I can’t help but wonder where Weeno and Theyno are.) Mack was not as vocally pure as some of her castmates, but she did the most to endow her characters with intensity and personality. Her Ino, Semele’s sister, was actively supportive and on an emotional keel Semele was beyond. She brought sincere sympathy to her scenes with the wounded Athamas, who is aware Semele prefers Jove to him, and who is as in love, possibly more suited, to Ino than Semele.

Mack’s Juno is a force to be reckoned with. She hints she’s less interested in having Jove for herself, something his and her rovings seem to preclude, than having him betray her with a mortal. Juno is passionate in her envy, but she can be dispassionate, cooler than Jove or Semele, about what she might do to impede the affair she finds offensive.

Mack has more going on within than the other characters seemed to. As Juno, Mack is often paired with Sarah Shafer, who plays the demigoddess, Iris, and is Juno’s aid.

Shafer is wittily pert in her role. She operates almost as comic relief as she agrees to any of Juno’s biddings and usually has something amusing to say about the situations she encounters.

Amanda Forsythe performs gloriously as Semele. Her beautiful soprano has remarkable depth and range, and she soars through Handel’s numerous, and difficult, embellishments, with aplomb.

The Perelman’s friendly confines allowed the performers to work unmiked, and the fullness of Forsythe’s voice and urgency in some of her tones impressed and caused a dizzy joy.

“Sing on,” you wanted to say. Who’d have thought facing three hours of Handel, you’d be encouraged to yell, “More. More?”

Alek Shrader, one who even came out well in last year’s “Candide,” provided size and scope to be a powerful but romantic and sincere Jove. You see his playfulness, his Jove being Jove, turn to ardor and realize he is sorrowful about fulfilling Jove’s unwise promise to Semele. Tim Mead has a gorgeous countertenor and conveyed well how dejected Athamas is at Semele’s disaffection. Mead’s scenes with Mack are particularly telling. They show the irony that they, who love the most of any in the opera, are destined to be apart.

Alex Rosen has a strong, compelling bass that served him in two roles, the disappointed Cadmus who sees his daughter’s wedding destroyed by what he thinks are natural forces, and the comic Somnus, the god of sleep, who fights to stay awake enough and potent enough to do Juno’s wicked bidding.

Darrah’s use of dance to illustrate points and as divertissement was creative and brought texture to his production. Lindsey Matheis was as choreographically articulate as her vocal counterparts. Her presence in general heightened the dramatic intensity of some scenes. There was a few in which, wonderful as Matheis danced, might have been better left between Semele and her vocal partner. Other dancers were Justin Campbell, Sydney Donovan, Jesse Jones, and Daniel Mayo.

“Denis & Katya” is a witty, absorbing operatic view of how dangerously invasive the old game of whispering down the lane has become in this age of social media. In additional to telling a simple story about two rebellious teenagers whose lives spiraled slightly out of control, Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s piece explores the more precarious and unending spiral of a story watched and spread via the Internet.

Denis and Katya were 15-year-old who, because their parents, mostly Katya’s parents, were opposed to them being together, ran away from the small Russian village in Strugi Krasnye to a cabin in a smaller, more remote village, Pskov, where they showed videos of themselves shooting guns and joking about being the new ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’

Want a singing exercise? Try having to wrap your voice around ‘Pskov’ several times a performance?

What Denis and Katya were doing might be quite innocent, just a little childish showing off that involved relatively harmless use of firearms, shooting not killing, but once they broadcast their activities for all to see, they attracted an audience. Some who knew them texted them. Others, who did not know, commented on their behavior and told them various things they had to do. Most people who tuned in the viral footage Denis and Katya provided on what would be their last afternoon, just watched and followed.

Who knows whether that was the best stance? Does it matter?

Venables and Huffman are interested, among other things, in that passive audience, the watchers, the people who followed Denis and Katya’s story dispassionately, as their entertainment for that afternoon.

The lookers may not have made a difference, but the increasing audience encouraged Denis and Katya to be more outrageous. They were kids. They got attention.

Among those from whom they got attention was the Special Forces, who feared an actual Bonnie and Clyde may be visiting and shooting off guns in Pskov. Those Special Forces surrounded the cabin the teens chose as their refuge from adults trying to separate them. The last portion of Denis and Katya’s video is about the gathering of those forces, an impending confrontation of those forces, and everyone’s confusion about what was happening and what to do.

To their credit, Venables and Huffman don’t go into too much background about Denis and Katya’s life or romance. They do not delve into their pasts or try to figure out what is on their mind when they’re in the cabin, before or after they became media stars and drew the attention of the police.

Venables and Huffman are interested in the role the Internet played in making Denis and Katya, and their whereabouts known. They are interested in what I call “Kitty Genovese on steroids,” referring to a ’60s crime in which people stood around or watched from apartment buildings as a woman was being killed, the advent of, in Denis and Katya’s case, thousands of spectators who take no action. They may remain curious — they’re watching after all — but they also remain unmotivated to do and say something, e.g. telling the Special Forces to stand down and realize they’re dealing with kids on a lark, but nervous kids with guns who may react outside their best interest.

Venables and Huffman don’t tell their story as I’ve told it.

By not speculating into causes or too deeply into Denis and Katya’s relationship and personality, they create the space they need to make a documentary of sorts about an event that received massive attention at the time in occurred in 2016.

“Denis & Katya” is not a cold report, but is an objective look at what happened one cold November day when two runaways became a live video show for people throughout Russia and the world.

Text messages are major parts of the text. These include messages between Denis and Katya, things they texted, and some texts they received.

In a clever turnabout, Venables and Huffman insert texts they wrote to each other as the framed and composed this opera, which is remarkable in the way ordinary information, never heightened or sentimentalized beyond what it is, can grab, make one interested, and make one fill in dots the opera doesn’t provide.

In addition to messages between the teens, and from other to them, Venables and Huffman report interviews of people in Pskov and Strugi Krasnye — a reporter, a teacher, Denis’s mother – to give some context, less about the children themselves but the environment in which they lived and how they responded to it.

The passages with people who knew Denis and Katya give the impression they were garden-variety teens who went through occasional upheavals, but led lives typical of people their age.

It is the ordinariness of Denis and Katya and their world that resonates.

Them acting out is the anomaly, the playing with guns seeming a bit of fun, unsafe and imprudent, but something to do when the novelty of running away, and an alleged confrontation with some of Katya’s relatives, wears off.

One nagging question is how Denis and Katya’s “Romeo and Juliet” exercise ends, i.e. how they die.

The official version, the one told by the Special Forces, is the teens became anxious as they cars surrounded them and made demands that they shot each other in a last act of romantic defiance. What people on the Internet say is they heard no gun shots that would indicate Denis and Katya shot one another, or even a murder-suicide. The general belief is the Special Forces killed them and said what they wanted about what happened.

Again I’m going into matters Venables and Huffman do not touch.

Naturally, they hint at what people are thinking and what anyone can actually tell them, but they concentrate more on simple information and make it engrossingly effective.

“Denis and Katya” makes you wonder what would have happened as little as 20 years ago when video streaming and the Internet were not so prevalent. If no one knew where Denis and Katya were, and that they had guns, would anyone take the time to find out or become rapt? If Denis and Katya’s “Bonnie and Clyde” joke was between them, would Special Forces be activated, or even interested? Without an audience, an increasing, enthusiastic audience, would Denis and Katya have been egged on to greater mischief, or would they have had their little fun and go off to snuggle? Or go home where it had to be warmer?

It’s the advent, influence, and allure of social media that attract Venables and Huffman and bring them to this story that so well illustrates it. Denis and Katya are good subjects because they are so young, so bland, and so juvenile as to have no imprint except what happened to them on this day unknown people noticed them and followed their antics.

Their writing is crisp and to the point. It foments more questions than it answers. Venables and Huffman find both the pith and the wit in what they report. There’s ringing irony here. There’s humor. There’s pathos. There’s a sense of overkill as a teenage episode explodes into a legend, a legend Venables and Huffman etch deeper into the public conscience.

The music is as wily as the libretto. It is decidedly modern, especially in the vocal line, which is built from messages and reports. It’s the underscoring, the music between scenes or that enhance what is being said, in which Venables and Huffman show their mettle as composers. Emotions and ideas are evoked that give nuance and texture to the spoken text.

Visuals also add to the production, which was directed by Huffman. One is especially taken with the Eastern European bleakness of Pskov and the messages that are shown is caption. These include messages between Venables and Huffman, some of which deal with the difficulty of getting started or what information may have to be enhanced to make it more dramatic.

Theo Hoffman and Siena Licht Miller are excellent in a variety of roles. Hoffman’s effortless baritone has a wide range, and his presence is comfortably nonchalant and confident. Licht Miller is a deft actress who plays a range of ages. Her singing brings you into each of her characters, whether it be a professional reporter, a teacher, or a contemporary of Denis and Katya.

“Let Me Die,” staged in conjunction with another Festival, FringeArts, and performed at FringeArt’s theater, is a grand and often hilarious look at one of opera’s consistent features, death.

In all of the operas mentioned above, a death occurs or is impending. The way death haunts opera haunts Joseph Keckler, a man whose amazing vocal instrument — He can sing from a lofty countertenor to a rich, mellifluous bass baritone that makes you want to see him in a full operatic role. — is matched by his renegade sense of humor.

Before Keckler speaks, he appears to strains of “Tosca,” sings Tosca’s last word, “O, Scarpio, avanti a Dio!,” and gestures the title diva’s famous leap from the parapets of Rome’s Castel Saint Angelo.

He then goes on to sing other final phrases and mimes about a half dozen more significant death scenes.

Once done charming us with his combination of satire and homage, Keckler speaks seriously about delving through reams of scores to find the reasons for the means of death throughout opera. He mentions making a spreadsheet listing circumstances of demise, such as illness, murder, execution, revenge, suicide, ridicule and ways characters die, such at knifepoint, from consumption, via firing squad, drowning, suffocation, poison, you name it.

Keckler takes special joy is delivering his oral, performed thesis on death as “the beating heart” of tragic opera. You can see the glint in his eye as he goes to the next point in his case. You hear a wonderful composition about opera’s penchant for taking lives. You are treated to great, cleverly executed piece that simultaneously shows the majesty of great death scenes while making fun of opera’s parade of carnage. Only a German word such as Goethe’s “Wonnegraus” (joy and horror) describes what Keckler so adroitly creates.

Listed as “Let Me Die’s” creator, Keckler finds ways to go over the same theme in a number of ways that keep it interesting. As mentioned, he is such a marvelous singer and so witty as a stage presence, you don’t tire of his various methods of telling the same joke.

Then something happens that changes the whole tone. At “Let Me Die’s” midpoint, Keckler has other singers enter. They take up where he left off, acting out famous death scenes, categorized by subject such as “man,” “woman,” “duo,” etc. while he, always the humorist, lies in a purple-lined casket he’s made from the lectern from which he’s been speaking to between performance pieces.

The singers Keckler enlists are good, but they lack one important thing he brought to the stage. Dressed in elaborate costumes that, again, celebrate opera’s grandeur while mocking it, the troupe continues to come to fatal climaxes and die for us, but the effect is not the same.

What’s missing is humor. The ensemble does not seem satirical. Like Keckler, they act out death scenes, including some of operas that are not frequently produced, but an edge is gone. “Let Me Die” seems to have turned literal. The kickiness Keckler provided by tone, expression, and attitude, stops materializing. It’s as dormant as Keckler is in his makeshift tomb.

Yes, the ensemble strikes heroic poses and lampoons opera’s self-serious magnitude. Yes, the troupe winks at a cliché of two, but there’s no bite. What once made you want to see the next variation becomes a collection of the same old thing. “Let Me Die” doesn’t quite wear out its welcome, but it begins seeming less novel, less droll, less an amusing look at opera’s primary calling card and more a catalogue of examples.

Singers Natalie Levin, Veronica Chapman-Smith, and Augustine Mercante were excellent vocally, and while they represented the poshness of opera, they didn’t seem to get to the jugular as much as Keckler did.

In general, all four operas produced for O 19 were joys unto themselves. In a more enlightened time, or in a place like London where music of all kinds is appreciated for its own sake, this kind of Festival would be a springboard to interest folks in opera as much as “O Mio Babbino Caro” did when it was sung in “Room with a View.”

O 19 proves Philadelphia should be an opera destination each September. I enjoy opera and don’t need coaxing to attend it, but once I saw “Denis & Katya” and “The Love for Three Oranges,” I was more than interested, I was compelled to attend the entire Festival.

Bravo to David Devan and his various lieutenants who brought O 19 into being and made it such an inspiring and artistic success.

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