The Atlanta Opera will announce Thursday the hiring of Tomer Zvulun to be its new general and artistic director.
Zvulun, 37, will officially take the reins of the opera June 1, 10 months after the abrupt resignation of Dennis Hanthorn, who had held the position for 8 years.
Zvulun, who until now has been based in New York City, is not new to the Atlanta company, having directed three of its shows, including the well-received “Lucia di Lammermoor” in 2011. He has worked with opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Dallas Opera and Wolf Trap.
“Tomer is one of the most highly respected stage directors today, and we are beyond thrilled to have him commit to the Atlanta Opera,” William Tucker, the chairman of the opera’s board, said in a statement. “Our audience has responded positively to his vision each time he has previously directed on our stage.”
Yet, in taking on the Atlanta Opera, the Israeli-born Zvulun faces challenges that would be steep for even a late-career artistic director.
Like many operas in the United States, the Atlanta Opera is battling to increase its subscriber base. But with only three productions per season, bringing in a larger and perhaps younger audience could make the goal difficult to achieve.
So, how will Zvulun meet these challenges and push the company forward? He spoke via phone with The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Tuesday from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he is working for the next couple of weeks before preparing for his move with his wife to Atlanta.
Q: There’s a desire for you to bring in new audiences to the opera. How will you do it?
A: I would love to create satellite productions and a chamber series where we can produce in alternative venues, hopefully for lesser cost than the Cobb Energy Centre. We are going to continue to do what we do at the Cobb Energy Centre and produce world-class productions there of mainstream operas, (but) while we are approaching a new audience and finding new locations for creating pieces that are a little less known. The key will be a combination.
Q: You’ve drawn praise for doing new work in other venues. Audiences here tend to be a bit more traditional. Will that Atlanta reality chafe against your impulses to do lesser-known or forward work?
A: The priority in this financial climate is to sustain a financially healthy company. That’s No. 1. This is a national trend that at this point a lot of companies are playing safe and programming mainstream, popular work. There is a place for less-mainstream pieces as long as they are produced in a fiscally responsible way as satellite productions. There are quite a few black box theatres in Atlanta, with 200-300 seats or 1,000 seats. Or you can do a piece in a church or cathedral. Create partnerships with local colleges and universities. There is a lot of opportunity in Atlanta.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face coming here?
A: The company has been without a leader for almost a full season and restoring the confidence in the company. Maintaining the excellence of operations and excellence of staff. And making sure that the audience that has always been coming to the Atlanta Opera will continue to be valued and catered to, but at the same time reach out to new audiences.
Q: The season was trimmed from four productions to three in the wake of the recession, and the desire is to restore it to four. How will you do that?
A: We can’t take too many risks. We have to be careful with our resources. But I believe the way for us to increase productions at least in the first year or two is to continue to do three productions at the Cobb Energy and do a production or or even two outside of the Cobb Energy for less cost. Once we manage to do that and get back on track, then we’ll look as soon as possible at increasing the number of Cobb Energy productions to four. We have big dreams in four years to five, but we have to take a step at a time.
Q: You were a senior medic in the Israeli army. What lesson did you learn there that might come in handy for this new job?
A: Function well under pressure. Always take things in proportion. And stay calm.