Partnership gives Penn students insider’s view of Opera Philadelphia

A partnership between the Department of Music in the School of Arts & Sciences and Opera Philadelphia gives Penn students a chance to get an insider’s view and explore the work of a professional performance company.

Through a collaboration established in the fall of 2014, Penn students and faculty provide educational materials and programs, including lectures at Opera Philadelphia’s “Between The Notes” series, which orients Opera patrons to upcoming performances. The sessions offer background information about the pieces and present patrons with new ways to listen to portions of the opera. In exchange, Penn students and faculty are able to attend Opera Philadelphia artistic meetings, rehearsals, and performances. 

“We get to sit in, and take it all in,” says Lily Kass, a Ph.D. student in the Music Department.

During a recent visit, while Opera Philadelphia was preparing for its upcoming production, “Cold Mountain”—a new opera set in the Civil War about an injured confederate soldier who deserts the battlefield to return to the woman he loves—some Penn students had the rare opportunity to get a glimpse of the rehearsal room. 

“They had makeshift platforms set up so they could do things like practice walking up a ramp while singing,” says Kass. “Because the cast was on break, we could just peek in and see what they were doing. It was very exciting.”

“For graduate students, their direct experience of the production process positively affects their scholarship on opera,” says Mauro Calcagno, an associate professor of music who created the partnership with Opera Philadelphia along with Kass and Ph.D. student Carlo Lanfossi. “For undergrads, it’s good to see how an artistic organization works. There’s a funding structure. We [now] understand how they connect with the city, how they collaborate with other entities in the city, how they bridge with many communities in the city.”

In a collaboration between the Department of Music, Opera Philadelphia, and Drexel University, a massive open online course (MOOC) called “Cold Mountain – Philadelphia” is being offered to acquaint audiences with the story.

Kass, undergraduate Matré Grant, and Ph.D. students Marc LeMay, Maria Murphy, Maria Ryan, and Charles Shrader, along with Michael Bolton, vice president for community programs at Opera Philadelphia, helped design and create the MOOC, which is presented by Drexel on Open Education on

As part of Penn’s collaboration with Opera Philadelphia, Cold Mountain composer and Penn alumna Jennifer Higdon will speak on campus on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 5:15 p.m. in room 102 of the Lerner Center, at 201 S. 34th St. The talk is free and open to the public.

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