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February 15, 2023

Academy of Vocal Arts reimagines classic Italian opera in 1960s South Philly

The school's production of Gaetano Donizetti’s 'Don Pasquale' will be shown on select nights from Feb. 16 through Feb. 23

Performances Opera
academy of vocal arts philadelphia opera don pasquale Morgan Horell/Academy of Vocal Arts

Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) is presenting performances of the comic opera "Don Pasquale" Feb. 16 through Feb. 23. While the show was originally set in 19th-century Rome, AVA has transported it to1960s South Philly.

Opera lovers may not expect to see classically-trained singers wearing Phillies caps on stage, but a Philadelphia vocal school is subverting those expectations with their reimagined production of a 19th century show.

The Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) is presenting performances of "Don Pasquale" over the next two weeks, with a twist. While the three-act opera was originally set in 19th-century Rome, AVA is relocating it to 1960s South Philly.

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"Don Pasquale" is an "opera buffa" (or comic opera, usually presented in Italian) composed by Gaetano Donizetti which premiered in Paris in 1843. The plot follows the titular character in his search for a wealthy bride to spite his rebellious nephew, who is in love with a young widow. Don Pasquale does not approve of the match.

The unique production will inspire nostalgia through the use of local products and signage evoking '60s Philadelphia, when Wilt Chamberlain led the Sixers and Frankie Avalon ruled the airwaves. Little details will be tweaked, like updating the opera's servant characters to nosy neighbors sitting on their stoops.

“I’m new to 'Don Pasquale,' and when I was studying the opera, I immediately thought of my Uncle Romeo in South Philadelphia,” Richard Troxell, the director of the production, said in a release. “This 69-year-old bachelor living in his brownstone in South Philly – it just made sense.”

Troxell, an international opera star, is an alumnus of AVA, the only tuition-free institution in the world devoted solely to operatic training. The school's carefully selected group of international Resident Artists will star in the show. 

Performances are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16, Saturday, Feb. 18, Tuesday, Feb. 21 and Thursday, Feb. 23. Songs will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Each performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in the AVA's Helen Corning Warden Theater at 1920 Spruce Street.

Tickets, which start at $68, can be purchased in advance online.

Don Pasquale

Feb. 16, 18, 21, 23
7:30 p.m. | Tickets start at $68
AVA's Helen Corning Warden Theater
1920 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

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