A new work premiered for Opera Philadelphia's inaugural festival has captured an honor for the company. The Wake World, with music and libretto by David Hertzberg and commissioned by Opera Philadelphia for its O17 debut at the Barnes Foundation in September, has won the best new opera award from the Music Critics Association of North America.
"We were really blown away by how he could use five musicians and make them sound like an orchestra of 40," awards judge Heidi Waleson, opera critic of the Wall Street Journal, said of Hertzberg, whose three-year term as an Opera Philadelphia composer-in-residence ends this summer. "There was so much variety and color and texture in the orchestra. It was like being in the middle of an opium dream."
The awards committee co-chairs were Waleson and George Loomis, longtime contributor to the Financial Times and Musical America; with committee members Arthur Kaptainis of the Montreal Gazette and Musical Toronto; John Rockwell, former critic and arts editor of the New York Times; and Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker.
Opera Philadelphia currently has no additional full operas in the works with Hertzberg, 28, who holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School. But two scenes from his opera in progress, The Rose Elf, will be staged by the company May 19 at the Wilma Theater. Tickets, which are free, will be available in late April.
The critics association's first-ever opera award last year went to another Opera Philadelphia commission: Breaking the Waves, composed by Missy Mazzoli with a libretto by Royce Vavrek.
This year's festival, O18, is set for Sept. 20-30.