Pittsburgh Opera Opens ‘Denis + Katya’ at Bitz Opera Factory (Sat., 5/6/23)

DENIS & KATYA (opera) by Philip Venables and Ted Huffman. Pittsburgh Opera. May 6 – 20. 

Pittsburgh Opera resident cast members Brandon Bell and Jazmine Olwalia play several different roles in the production of 'Denis + Katya.' (Photo: David Bachman Photography)

Pittsburgh Opera resident cast members Brandon Bell and Jazmine Olwalia play several different roles in the production of ‘Denis + Katya.’ (Photo: David Bachman Photography)

Tragic opera takes on new dimensions in Denis & Katya. The opera conveys the true story of Russian teenagers Denis Muravyov and Katya Vlasova, who became social media celebrities in a ghastly way. The 15-year-olds were a loving but troubled couple. In November 2016 they ran away together and holed up in a vacant summer house stocked with liquor and firearms. This led to a long standoff with special-forces officers. Denis and Katya refused pleas to come out, firing shots from a window, alternately clowning and brooding—and streaming video of themselves doing so. Eventually Denis and Katya streamed a farewell message. They were found dead in an apparent suicide pact. The opera uses only two singers, who do not portray Denis and Katya. Instead they sing multiple “outsider” roles—a journalist, witnesses, a friend of the couple—while projections of text grabs from actual online posts and other sources help to tell the tale in an eerie mixture of immediacy and distance. Denis & Katya premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2019 and has played elsewhere to wide acclaim. Pittsburgh Opera has mezzo-soprano Jazmine Olwalia and baritone Brandon Bell as the performers.  See Denis & Katya at the company’s Bitz Opera Factory. 8 p.m. 2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District. (M.V.)

Meanwhile there is major news: Late in the show’s run, our city serves as the center of the U.S. opera community. Pittsburgh Opera is hosting the annual conference of the professional group OPERA America from May 17-20. This event is the world’s largest yearly gathering of opera administrators, artists, and other stakeholders. Along with conference sessions aimed at advancing the state of the art, visitors may attend up to three locally produced operas. Pittsburgh Opera is staging We Shall Not Be Moved (previewed below) May 13 – 21, thus creating a contemporary double-bill with Denis & Katya, and Resonance Works presents Verdi’s Macbeth May 18 and 20.

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Mike Vargo

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