“Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.”
-Humorist, Robert Benchley
Going to the opera doesn't have to be an intimidating, wallet-busting experience, where you have to don a tux and can't understand the singing! It can be an affordable and enjoyable evening out!
Tucked away on Spruce Street in Philadelphia, you might not know from the outside that the building is home to the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA). Once you enter, it's a completely different experience. It's not just about the opera, it's about the space, too. So, here's a bit about the AVA....
The Academy of Vocal Arts
Located at 1920 Spruce Street, near Rittenhouse Square, the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, was once a private residence. Built around 1868 by Ebenezer Burgess Warren (a director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and a vice president of Hahnemann College). The first owners, Elizabeth and Randolph Wood in 1870, are part of the lore of the building. Mr. Wood’s unfortunate suicide allegedly left his ghost residing there...enjoying opera, no doubt.
Over the years, subsequent owners made changes to the interior, engaging famous architects such as Frank Furness and G. W. and W. D. Hewitt. The details and the space are spectacular. and it makes for an intimate experience. Read even more about the AVA? Click here!
To start with, the performers and musicians were phenomenal and I was unbelievably lucky to have attended the opening night of La favorite! Thanks to Camille Mola, PR and Communications Manager at AVA, and to everyone there for hosting me!
If you’re like me and are not versed in opera at all except for the most famous ones, you may not have heard of Gaetano Donzetti’s La favorite. An opera in four acts, it’s set during the Moorish invasions of Spain in 1340, but it’s sung in French.* Why? Because Donizetti wrote it at the request of his boss at the time, the Director of the Opéra in Paris (and the Director wanted an opera that his girlfriend could have a role in. Swear. to. god.).
*Don't worry - there's supertitles.
So here’s the synopsis – A love triangle unfolds between King Alphonso XI of Castile, his mistress Leonor (“the favorite”) and Leonor’s lover, Fernand.
Spoiler alert – people die at the end.
As the opera begins, Fernand is a monk in a monastery. The monestary’s Superior, Balthazar, is the father of the Queen of Castile. Fernand confesses to Balthazar that he’s fallen in love with a beautiful woman (Léonor), but unbeknownst to Fernand, his girl, Léonor, is the King’s mistress – the King – the son-in-law of Fernand’s boss? You mean to tell me there no other women in in Spain? Balthazar doesn’t know who it is either, but when Fernand confesses his love, Balthazar expels him from the monastery.
Fernand leaves the monastery and finds Léonor, but she tells him that they can’t be together. On her way out the door, Leonor slips him a letter which turns out to be a commission in the King’s army. Whaaat?
Fernand turns out to be a brave guy in the army and the King is thankful to him (more about that in a minute). The King, unaware of who Fernand’s love interest is, expresses his desire to divorce the Queen and to marry Léonor, but the King realizes that his father-in-law Balthazar will get completely bent out of shape. And Balthazar has juice – he’s backed by the Pope.
In the meantime, Léonor is tired of being the other woman and the King suspects that he’s losing her. So remember the note that got slipped to Fernand earlier? Well, the King finds out about it and realizes that Léonor has an exit plan, but not with whom. Balthazar gets involved and tells his cheating son-in-law to ix-nay on the ivorce-day.
Back to Fernand’s bravery. The King decides he’s going to reward Fernand and the King asks him what he wants. Guess what he says? King, I wanna marry your girlfriend. Okay, not in so many words, but that’s when the King realizes that Fernand is Léonor’s secret love interest! This is way better than Game of Thrones, right?
So the King abruptly agrees to it and demands that Fernand and Léonor marry that day. Fernand still doesn’t know who Léonor is and she figures she better tell him, but she never gets the chance and Fernand doesn’t find out who she is until after he puts a ring on it.
When Fernand finds out he’s like what the...? He leaves Léonor and goes back to the monastery and to Balthazar. In the meantime, Balthazar's daughter, the Queen, dies of jealousy and grief. Fernand is preparing to go back to being a monk when Léonor shows up trying to get him back. Fernand caves in and takes her back, but it’s too late. Léonor collapses in his arms and dies.
And you thought telenovelas were full of drama?
In case you're wondering: Out of respect for the performers AVA asked everyone to refrain from having phones out during the performance, so...no photos...you'll just have to check out the performance for yourselves!
Oh hey! Before you go! Mark the date!
– March 28 for BRAVA Philadelphia!
@AVAopera brings opera to @TheMetPhilly for the first time in over 80 years! Join AVA as they celebrate their 85th anniversary with BRAVA Philadelphia! on March 28, 2020. Don’t miss an evening of spectacular singing, featuring performances by international opera stars and AVA alumni sopranos Angela Meade and Latonia Moore, tenors Bryan Hymel and Taylor Stayton, along with many more! Tickets start at just $30. Click here for details!