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Drexel and Penn Create Free Online Course With Opera Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA January 25, 2016

In its ongoing mission to broaden its audience and bolster its patrons’ enjoyment, Opera Philadelphia is rolling out an online course in the lead-up to its next major production. Experts from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania created the framework and curriculum as a primer for Opera Philadelphia’s east coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon and Gene Scheer’s Cold Mountain, which opens on Feb. 5 at the Academy of Music.

Cold Mountain, is a new opera by Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Philadelphia-based composer, with renowned librettist Scheer. With the arrival of a new work, there is an opportunity and a responsibility to prepare the audience – a point not lost on Opera Philadelphia when it reached out to Youngmoo Kim, PhD, director of Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, and Lily Kass, a graduate student in Penn’s Department of Music.

“Opera Philadelphia is extremely excited to collaborate with two of the city's greatest academic institutions, Drexel University’s ExCITe Center and University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Music, to create its first MOOC in anticipation of the East Coast Premiere of Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain,” said Michael Bolton, Opera Philadelphia’s vice president of Community Programs. “The course explores musicological and contextual elements to acquaint opera, literature, and film lovers alike with this musical adaptation of Charles Frazier’s popular novel. The course will remain online, allowing future audiences the chance to learn more about this fascinating work.”

The free online course uses videos of cast members performing selections from the opera, combined with audio excerpts and interviews with Penn’s musicology experts to explain both the historical context of the story, as well as the musical and dramatic themes used to tell it. It was designed as a four-week course, but participants are able to progress through the lessons at their own pace.

“Debuting a new work is an incredible opportunity to engage and broaden audiences for opera, particularly when coupled with emerging interactive channels– like an online course,” Kim said. “This course gives a much deeper explanation of the work, staging and performance, which can’t be gleaned from skimming the playbill before curtain.”

Creation of the technology behind the course was coordinated by Michael Scheuermann, PhD, associate vice president of Instructional Technology Support in Drexel’s Office of Information Resources & Technology, with Michael Shelmet, associate director of Drexel’s Instructional Technology Group, who coordinated the content build-out. It is hosted on Blackboard, Inc.’s Open Education platform so that audiences in other cities can learn about Cold Mountain as it continues its tour around the country.

“An online course is a good way to learn about an opera because it’s a platform that supports a plethora of voices and in a number of different ways,” Kass said. “Since all arts analysis is subjective to some degree, hearing the perspective of a number of different people can help participants to gather a more diverse, multi-faceted view of the opera. In this case, participants get read commentary from Opera Philadelphia staff members, a composer, a musicologist and hear the voices of the composer Jennifer Higdon, the librettist, Gene Scheer, and other creators of the work.”

The Cold Mountain course is currently open for enrollment. Cold Mountain runs from Feb. 5-14, for more information about Opera Philadelphia and ticket information visit: