The newly announced 2017-18 Atlanta Opera season will feature its share of beloved classics, but will also add a Broadway musical, Brechtian drama and the participation of some renowned Atlanta theater artists into the mix.
“One of the things that was important to us this year was to show diversity,” says Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun. Since Zvulun took the helm in 2013, the company has steadily increased the number of its productions and also expanded its reach well beyond the mainstage shows at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. “This season, we wanted to tell the story of people that are on the fringes of society, people that are ‘the others.’”
The company will open the 2017-18 mainstage season at the Cobb Energy Centre with an all-new production of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” Nov. 4-12. “I have a bit of an obsession with Wagner,” says Zvulun, who will direct.
Zvulun, who made his company debut with the Atlanta Opera directing a production of the work in 2009, says he’ll return to the opera this time collaborating with a new design team to create a show that will use multimedia and projection elements. The new “Dutchman” will feature Roswell resident Jay Hunter Morris, the charmingly down-home tenor who shot to opera stardom in 2011 when he stepped into the notoriously difficult Wagnerian role of Siegfried at the Met when the lead dropped out eight days before opening night. Wayne Tigges will sing the title role as the Flying Dutchman, and soprano Melody Moore will sing the role of Senta.
The mainstage season continues from Feb. 24-March 4, 2018, with a production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment,” not performed in Atlanta since 1985. Tenor Santiago Ballerini will become the first artist in the recently launched Atlanta Opera Studio development program to assume a lead role in a mainstage production when he sings the role of Tonio.
From April 28-May 6, 2018, the company brings back its popular 2012 production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” this time featuring Zanda Švēde in the title role; Gianluca Terranova, who performed as Rodolfo in the company’s 2015 “La Bohème,” as Don Jose; and Edward Parks, last seen in Atlanta in 2016’s “Romeo and Juliet,” in the role of Escamillo the bull fighter.
The season extends almost into the summer with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” June 9-17, 2018, starring Marietta native and Broadway star Shuler Hensley. Hensley will make his role debut as the murderous “demon barber of Fleet Street.” “I was shocked when he said he’d never performed as Sweeney,” says Zvulun. “I said, ‘Let’s remedy that.’” Mezzo-soprano Meredith Arwady will sing the role of Mrs. Lovett.
The production may seem like a surprising move for opera fans more accustomed to Puccini and Wagner, but Zvulun is quick to point out that opera houses from Houston Grand Opera to San Francisco and Portland have presented “Sweeney Todd” with great success.
“It’s the same story as when we did ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ which ended up being our greatest blockbuster in the past 35 years,” he says. “It’s up to argument whether those masterpieces are opera or musical theater. Nobody wins in those arguments. ‘Sweeney’ has exquisite music, and when you pair it with a great orchestra and great singer in a beautiful production, it makes perfect sense to program in our season.”
Also programmed in the season is an intriguing lineup of what the company calls its “Discoveries Series,” smaller chamber works produced throughout the year at various, often unusual or site-specific venues around town.
In October 2017, the company will present a new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s satirical “Seven Deadly Sins,” directed by Serenbe Playhouse Artistic Director Brian Clowdus, who has become well-known for his elaborate site-specific productions. Productions of the ballet chanté, or sung ballet, typically involve movement as well as music, but the company has yet to release the name of the Atlanta choreographer Clowdus will collaborate with. Expect further details about that and the production’s site-specific location around May 2017.
In April 2018, the “Discoveries Series” will present the company premiere of “Out of Darkness: Two Remain” by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer: The work has had previous concert and recital performances, but this will be the first full production. The two-act opera is based on real-life accounts of Holocaust survivors. Tom Key, artistic director of Theatrical Outfit, who performed a nonsinging role in the 2016-17 season opening production of “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” will sing the role of Gad.
“Opera is an art form that’s strongly connected to the theater world,” Zvulun says of Clowdus’ and Key’s upcoming participation. “I watched their excellent work on their own, and I thought it would be wonderful to invite them into the fold and collaborate with them at the Atlanta Opera.”