‘Oscar’ is about ‘human rights and equality,’ ‘compassion and forgiveness’

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Opera Philadelphia’s 40th anniversary season continues Feb. 11, 13 and 15 at the Academy of Music with the East Coast premiere of “Oscar.” Countertenor David Daniels, for whom the opera was written, makes his Opera Philadelphia debut as Oscar Wilde, portraying the tragic chronicle of the acclaimed writer’s trial and imprisonment for gross indecency because of his homosexuality.

“Oscar” has been an intensely personal project for Daniels, who believes the story of Oscar Wilde had a deep connection to contemporary political discourse on the rights of same-sex couples. Originally co-commissioned and co-produced with The Santa Fe Opera, Daniels says he’s excited about revisiting the story for Opera Philadelphia.

“Revisiting a work always brings exciting revelations to me as an artist and allows me to bring more and more to my characters. And to make my Opera Philadelphia debut during the 40th anniversary season is just icing on the cake.”

Daniels was born in Spartansburg, South Carolina, and was raised in a musical family. Daniels recalls, “My father was a baritone and my mother a soprano, who taught at Spartansburg’s Converse College. I grew up with opera from the beginning of my life. And as long as I can remember, it was always my dream, my vision to become a professional singer.”

Trained as a tenor at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, at the University of Michigan graduate school he made the decision to pursue the countertenor voice. His accomplishments led to his receiving the Richard Tucker Award.

“I am the first and only countertenor to receive that award,” Daniel says. “It was a thrill for me and a great compliment. That award promotes you in the opera business. I think it put me out there in the public eye.”

Today, in addition to his very busy operatic performances around the country and around the world, Daniels also gives regular recitals and teaches master classes – which often brings him back to his discussions regarding Oscar Wilde.

“Many of the students are familiar with Wilde’s work, the fact that he’s buried in Paris, but not the horrendous things that were done to him because of his homosexuality,” Daniels explains. “And although times have gotten better, we still have a long way to go in acknowledging that people are different and are entitled to their differences.

“But this is not a gay pride opera,” Daniels continues. “This is an opera about human rights and equality. It’s about the last years of Wilde’s life and how horrible he was treated just for loving another man.”

Daniels, who is gay and married his partner last June, says “this opera is ultimately about compassion and forgiveness, and I’m hoping that’s what the audience comes away with.”

For ticket information, call (215) 893-1018 or check http://www.operaphila.org/

 Frank Harris (William Burden) urges Oscar Wilde (David Daniels) to flee to France. Photo Ken Howard

Frank Harris (William Burden) urges Oscar Wilde
(David Daniels) to flee to France.
Photo Ken Howard

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