Opera Philadelphia's Opera on the Mall to return with MOVE bombing-inspired work

Lauren Whitehead as Un/Sung and Kristin Chavez as Glenda in "We Shall Not Be Moved." .Dave DiRentis / Courtesy Opera Philadelphia

Opera on the Mall will return in the fall – not with a Mozart classic or beloved Bizet, but with one of Opera Philadelphia’s own new commissions that blends jazz, classical, hip-hop, and other genres to explore racism and social justice.

A high-definition video of We Shall Not Be Moved – with music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and directing and choreography by Bill T. Jones – will be shown at a free, outdoor HD broadcast screening on Independence Mall Sept. 29 as part of the O18 festival.

The video was captured when the work premiered at the Wilma Theater as part of Opera Philadelphia’s O17 festival in September.

>> READ MORE: Has anything changed? Opera Philadelphia uses MOVE as a lens

Opera Philadelphia has in previous years funded Opera on the Mall largely through corporate underwriting and by tapping its own operating budget. This year, though, the $160,000 cost of presenting the event will be covered by $135,000 in corporate and individual philanthropy already identified, plus, the company hopes, about $25,000 it aims to raise through a Kickstarter campaign of donations of $10 and up.

We Shall Not Be Moved was chosen, in part, because “a lot of people couldn’t see it and you couldn’t get a ticket,” said Opera Philadelphia general director and president director David B. Devan.

If the remaining $25,000 is not raised, the event will go on, but a shortfall could force the company to “cut some corners that [we] don’t want to cut.”

Camera icon Bethanie Hines
Marc Bamuthi Joseph, librettist for “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

We Shall Not Be Moved uses the deadly 1985 police bombing of the West Philadelphia compound of the MOVE organization as the starting point for a story in which, decades later, a group of teens confront race, gender, police brutality, and other issues. After its premiere at the Wilma, it went on to Harlem’s Apollo Theater and the Opera Forward Festival in Amsterdam.

For its encore on the mall, Devan plans to draw listeners through partnering with neighborhood churches and cultural and community organizations.

The crowd-sourcing element of the funding aims to “give people a sense of ownership” about the event, he said.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Warming up with a classic opera cartoon (“Rabbit of Seville,” 1950, Looney Tunes) before the HD broadcast of “The Marriage of Figaro” on Independence Mall during the O17 festival.

The opera company has in previous years chosen operas like La Bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, and Turandot – works of such established popularity that listeners go home whistling tunes. We Shall Not Be Moved is a modern score wrought of a mix of genres, but it still offers tunes in a direct musical language.

Devan points to the several arias, including “Love is the only word sweeter than black,” and says: “It has some of the same earworm quality as a standard opera aria.”

The work “represents us in terms of having a really important message but also a piece of art.”

Opera Philadelphia’s Kickstarter campaign may be accessed at kck.st/OperaPhila.

Free tickets will be available Aug. 29 at operaonthemall.com.