Opera Philadelphia To Launch Festival O19 With ‘Denis & Katya’

By Nicole Kuchta
(Credit: Dominic M. Mercier)

Opera Philadelphia will kick off its O19 Festival with the world premiere of Venables and Huffman’s opera “Denis & Katya.”

The opera, co-commissioned and co-produced with Music Theatre Wales and Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, was inspired by the “true story of two 15-year-old runaways who became social media sensations when they live streamed an armed stand-off with Russian Special Forces that culminated in their own deaths.”

“I came across the story of Denis and Katya – as many others did – through a Facebook news item, a promoted link: two angelic faces over a lurid headline comparing them to Romeo and Juliet,” librettist and director Ted Huffman stated in the press release. “There is something undeniably theatrical about [Denis and Katya’s] last days. They chose to put themselves on camera. It felt like they were reaching out for some kind of connection on the internet, and I think opera is all about connection. Naturally, the next question is, whose perspective is the storytelling coming from, and it was really interesting to me to try to incorporate multiple perspectives. I think this idea that a community can tell a story is very powerful.”

Composer Philip Venables added, “The making of this piece is another form of the kind of ‘watching’ and the kind of exhibitionism or voyeurism that the piece itself is talking about. The piece is going to be a really good mix of theater and opera, a really good mix of drama and reality, of fact and fiction.”

“Denis & Katya” will feature costumes by Millie Hiibel, scenic and lighting design by Andrew Lieberman, video design by Pierre Martin, and sound design by Rob Kaplowitz. The double cast will pair baritone Theo Hoffman with mezzo-soprano Siena Licht Miller, and baritone Johnny Herford with mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds. The work is scored for four cellos. Emily Senturia serves as music director.

The new opera received the €150,000 Fedora Generali Prize for Opera on June 28 and was made possible with support from the William Penn Foundation.

Performances will be held at Philadelphia’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre from Sept. 18 – 29, 2019.