Are you curious about opera? It's opening weekend for Festival O18, Philadelphia's nationally acclaimed opera festival — as good a time as any to see what the fuss is about. Easy ways in to the opera scene abound:

  • Sky on Swings, an opera about Alzheimer's with performances Sept. 20-29, has a story line many can relate to. Sharleen Joynt of TV's The Bachelor, the coloratura soprano who upended season 18, plays the adult daughter of a woman with Alzheimer's, who is played by the esteemed mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson. Frederica von Stade also stars.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor, with five shows at the Academy of Music Friday through Sept. 30, is a story of love and madness. Up and coming diva Brenda Rae sings the title role. Big-name talent Laurent Pelly directs.
  • The annual Opera on the Mall that closes the O18 festivities is a screening of We Shall Not Be Moved, reflecting on Philadelphia's MOVE tragedy. Presented outdoors on Independence Mall, it comes in at everyone's favorite price point: free. (Reserve ahead at

And for anyone already immersed in the thriving Philly drag scene, there’s Queens of the Night, in which Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and Philadelphia drag icon Dito van Reigersberg perform a three-performance serial Sept. 24, 25, and 28 at the Theatre of the Living Arts, expanding on their successful 2017 cabaret Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night — being reprised this year as part three of the new show.

With their grand manner, extravagant clothes and multisyllabic names, opera divas and drag artists can appear to be the same thing. And they will be — more or less — in this freewheeling corner of Festival 018. Performers trade genders (of course), Dito assuming his famous Martha Graham Cracker identity, and Blythe reexamining her recently created persona Blythely Oratonio — while sounding like a tenor. Vocal cross-dressing?

"That's my belting voice," she told Inquirer and Daily News classical music writer David Patrick Stearns. "If somebody hired me to do Cavaradossi [the tenor freedom fighter in Tosca], I'd do it tomorrow."

Blythe, 48, sings a Tosca aria that rubs up against Barry Manilow's "Could It be Magic" — and was a Martha Graham Cracker fan for years via YouTube. She says the new inner self Blythely allowed her to discover "my inner rock star, my inner cabaret artist, my inner Sammy Davis, Jr. …" She told Stearns her dream is to take the show to Carnegie Hall.

Below is the full schedule for Festival 018, produced by Opera Philadelphia Sept. 20-30 in venues throughout Center City. As of midweek, only Glass Handel at the Barnes Foundation was sold out for all shows, although the festival advises checking back for availability. Tickets are $25-$275 for individual performances (Opera on the Mall free with advance registration), $925 for opening weekend pass. Information at  215-732-8400 or

  • Sky on Swings, Sept. 20, 22, 25, 27, and 29. Perelman Theater, 300 S. Broad St.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor, Sept. 21, 23, 26, 28, and 30. Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St.
  • Ne Quittez Pas, Sept. 22, 23, 27, 29, and 30 at Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St.
  • Glass Handel, Sept. 22, 23, and 30 at the Barnes Foundation, ‎2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
  • Queens of the Night, Sept. 24, 25, and 28 at Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St.
  • Fridays at Field, September 21 and 28, Field Concert Hall, 1726 Locust St.
  • Opera on the Mall, Sept. 29, Independence Mall

Inquirer and Daily News classical music writer David Patrick Stearns contributed to this article.