Stage Door News

Philadelphia: Rene Orth’s “10 Days in a Madhouse” with a libretto by Hannah Moscovitch premieres September 21

Monday, August 28, 2023

Composer Rene Orth’s newest opera, 10 Days in a Madhouse will have its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia on Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 7:00pm, with additional performances on Saturday, September 23 at 2:00pm, Tuesday, September 26 and Thursday, September 28 at 7:00pm, and Saturday, September 30 at 2:00pm. Grammy-winning baritone Will Liverman (recipient of the 2022 Beverly Sills Artist Award and co-creator of The Factotum which premiered at the Lyric Opera Chicago in 2023) stars as Josiah Blackwell; and Daniela Candillari (Principal Conductor at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Principal Opera Conductor at Music Academy) makes her company debut conducting the production.

10 Days in a Madhouse, directed by Joanna Settle, kicks off Opera Philadelphia’s 2023-24 season and its annual fall festival, Festival 023. Rene Orth’s work with a libretto by Hannah Moscovitch is an experimental, psychological work inspired by the real-life story of Nellie Bly, a trailblazing reporter who, in 1887, faked madness to be admitted to Blackwell’s Asylum for the Insane and to report on conditions from the inside. While at the asylum, Bly encountered women whose poverty, race, and grief over past traumas had been mistaken for madness. She became a star journalist by exposing the institution’s terrible conditions and her hands-on approach to reporting developed into a practice now called investigative journalism. 10 Days in a Madhouse additionally features soprano Kiera Duffy, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis, and soprano Lauren Pearl.

10 Days in a Madhouse exposes – as Nellie Bly herself did – the feminization of madness, the bias of doctors against the sanity of women, and how the systems and social structures in which women find themselves induce madness,” says Rene Orth. “It is an acoustic work that is selectively electronic. The acoustic world represents reality as most see it, and the electronic sound world – which includes amplification, live vocal effects, sound design and electronic clips – will dramatize the characters’ journeys into madness.”

Additional projects of Orth’s include a commission for Vocal Arts DC premiering at The Kennedy Center in 2024, composing a song cycle for Daniela Mack; writing a new song for Grammy-winner Will Liverman’s next album on Cedille Records, which is a duet for him and J’nai Bridges; and writing an electronics and voice piece for Raehann Bryce-Davis’ forthcoming debut album.

Hannah Moscovitch is an acclaimed playwright, librettist and TV writer. Her work for the stage includes East of Berlin, This Is War, Little One, The Russian Play, Infinity and What a Young Wife Ought to Know. Her plays have been widely produced across Canada, as well as in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Australia and Japan. Hannah’s music-theatre hybrid, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (co-created with Christian Barry and Ben Caplan) has toured internationally, garnering a New York Times Critics’ Pick and over fifty four-and five-star reviews. Hannah’s operas with Lembit Beecher, Sky on Swings and I have no stories to tell you, have been produced at Gotham Chamber Opera / the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Opera Philadelphia.

Will Liverman’s 2023-24 season begins with creating the role of Dr. Blackwell in 10 Days in a Madhouse, the second time he has brought a new character to life on the Opera Philadelphia stage, having created the role of Dizzy Gillespie in the 2015 world premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette Wimberly. Following his appearance in 10 Days in a Madhouse, Liverman – who has been described as “a voice for this historic moment” by The Washington Post – sings the title role of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X at The Metropolitan Opera.

Daniela Candillari – praised for her “confidence and apparently inexhaustible verve” by The New York Times – opens the 2023-24 season with her company debut conducting 10 Days in a Madhouse at Opera Philadelphia. Immediately following, the Principal Conductor at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis leads another world premiere, this time at Washington National Opera for Jeanine Tesori’s Grounded starring Emily D’Angelo.

On Tuesday, September 26, at 8:45 p.m., Opera Philadelphia hosts a one-hour panel discussion and Q&A session following that evening’s performance of 10 Days in a Madhouse. The roundtable aims to help audiences learn more about disability justice, and how Nellie Bly’s work inspires and resonates in our current times, as well as helped to inspire the opera. Panelists include Charlie Miller, Community Engagement Director, Dauphin County Library System, and Amy Nieves, Executive Director Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. This event is part of the Reflection & Re-Vision series.

10 Days in a Madhouse is co-commissioned and co-produced by Opera Philadelphia and Tapestry Opera. The commissioning of Rene Orth for 10 Days in a Madhouse received funding from OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. The project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.