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Special Reports

MA 30 The Innovators: David B. Devan

December 6, 2016 | By Bruce Hodges

General Director and President, Opera Philadelphia

“We believe Philadelphia exists at the intersection of sophistication and grit,” says David B. Devan, general director and president of Opera Philadelphia. “We are trying to embody that reality so that we are a part of this city.” Since his appointment in 2011, he has changed the way Philadelphia audiences have come to think about opera.

Under Devan’s leadership, the company has established a multi-year composer-in-residence program, in collaboration with the Music-Theater Group (New York), to keep the artform infused with creativity. Opera News has described the company as “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country.” Since Devan’s arrival, the company has produced or co-produced eight new operas, including Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette Wimberly, Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon, and most recently, Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli.

In September 2017, Opera Philadelphia will unveil the inaugural O17 festival, with seven productions—including premieres by Kevin Puts, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and Lembit Beecher. The festival will use venues additional to its home base at the Academy of Music. They include the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Barnes Foundation.

When O17 received a $2.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, that organization’s VP for Arts Victoria Rogers commented, “Opera Philadelphia has the opportunity to re-envision the discipline, curate a series relevant to today’s audiences, and demonstrate that opera is an accessible, vibrant, multidimensional art form reflective of our lives.”

Devan is keenly aware that opera must pursue different paths to remain vital in the 21st century. “Our company has to be audience-centered. We want to cultivate and support the widest range of artists possible—traditionally singers and musicians, but we have extended that to include directors, librettists,and others. That’s how you excite and energize audiences.”


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