Opera Philadelphia’s David B. Devan approaches the artform with listening ears
AL DÍA spoke with Devan, the President and General Director of Opera Philadelphia, to learn more about the prolific, local company’s role in 2022.
Opera Philadelphia President David B. Devan joined the company over 15 years ago.
In 2011, Devan began serving the company as their General Director. The company’s president remains in the role today, hitting the 11-year mark just the other week.
Devan pushes Opera Philadelphia as a torchbearer of the artform, ensuring a consistent vision for the company during times of shifting focus and culture.
“The goal hasn’t changed,” Devan told AL DÍA. “The tactics and the strategies have changed.”
The company has faced challenges that require new tactics to meet an old goal. Opera Philadelphia discontinued their subscription service in exchange for a festival, and opened a streaming channel in response to COVID-19.
Originally founded in 1975, Devan oversaw the company as it developed throughout the 2010s. Now he manages Opera Philadelphia as it navigates the current decade.
Through national dialogues opened in the past two years, Opera Philadelphia underwent rapid changes to tell the stories of unheard voices.
This principle encompasses aspects concerning what stories are chosen to be told, to who is chosen to direct and present those stories.
Such choices have opened new relationships, including an allyship between Opera Philadelphia and the AAPI community, whose conversations have addressed how best to present stories depicting AAPI characters.
Born in Canada, Devan would relocate to Philly to take a leadership role at Opera Philadelphia.
Devan’s goal back in 2011 was to make Opera Philadelphia the “quintessential American opera company,” one that embraced the “good parts of America in terms of invention, creation, and progress.”
Establishing a framework that leaned into progressive work and contemporary life, Devan’s Opera Philadelphia would adopt a model that utilized listening ears open to change.
Not only open to change, Opera Philadelphia works as opera’s entrustee, always seeking to push the artform forwards with an attention to detail.
“The goals kinda always remained the same in terms of being the authors of the future of [opera], and for being a place of importance in the nation and in the world of opera in Philadelphia, for Philadelphia,” said Devan.
Opera Philadelphia’s work includes interaction with community members and outreach to the wider community. To Devan, collaboration is an act of showing up, having interest besides yourself, and being enthusiastic about all parties’ work and ideas.
In essence, being prepared to listen is one of the most important steps. Understanding the individual and their unique interests leads to a more diverse array of stories to tell.
After all, no two productions will be exactly alike: “The composer sets the time signature of that experience,” said Devan.
Planning a season for 2022, Opera Philadelphia is continuing their work into the new year. The company is even up for a Grammy Award this season, nominated under the category of Best Opera Recording for David T. Little’s Soldier Songs.
Employing health guidelines and paying close attention to the pandemic’s development, the company has moved forward in plans for in-person productions; in addition to digital content for the Opera Philadelphia Channel.
“We’ve been so thrilled with our digital streaming, we’re gonna keep doing that, but I’m just excited to be back in the theater,” said Devan.
Svadba, a new film from director Shura Baryshnikov, screenwriter Hannah Shepard, and conductor Daniela Candillari, was filmed in Cape Cod. The film depicts the celebrations of six women on the eve of a wedding.
The Kimmel Cultural Campus — where Opera Philadelphia’s production of Oedipus Rex + Lilacs will be held — requires proof of vaccination and the use of masks inside their venues.
“If you feel COVID-19 conditions make it unsafe to attend after purchasing your tickets, please reach out to us before the date and start time of your ticketed performance for a refund, exchange, or credit,” states the Kimmel Cultural Campus.
Opera Philadelphia also recently hired Dr. Derrel Acon as acting Vice President of People Operations and Inclusion. Devan described Acon as “one of the leading people in equity and inclusion in classical music.”
With so many changes occurring within Opera Philadelphia, Devan is hoping to make the right steps as he leads and listens simultaneously.
The President and General Director wishes to observe Philly, and reshape the city’s arts community for the better.
As a general rule of thumb, Devan hopes to set a good example for the rest of the world.
“I hope Opera Philadelphia is portrayed as a place that celebrates life, a place that all are invited,” said Devan.