On Friday, the Atlanta Opera announces the offerings for the company's 2016-2017 season, which begins in October, and they represent another leap ahead for the 46-year-old organization.
The opera company will increase its mainstage presentations from three to four productions, including an adventurous new work, “Silent Night,” by Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which had its premiere in 2011 and won the Pulitzer Prize.
The company will also stage two smaller productions, part of the Discoveries series, in unconventional venues. One of these will be "The Secret Gardener," which the prodigious Mozart wrote at age 18, and the other will be "Maria de Buenos Aires," a "tango opera" with music by Argentinian composer and bandoneon master Astor Piazzolla, who has contributed to a tango revival worldwide.
Mainstage works will be produced at the 2,700-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. They will also include "The Abduction From the Seraglio" by Mozart, "Turandot" by Puccini and "Don Pasquale" by Donizetti.
You can see video from productions of those shows on YouTube here, here, here and here.
It is a full dance card and another expansion of the opera’s mission and vision, which have both steadily grown under the direction of Israeli transplant Tomer Zvulun.
Since Zvulun, 39, arrived as general and artistic director in 2013, the opera has increased its performances from 12 to 27, and increased the number of operas from three to six per season.
More importantly, Zvulun continues to expand the opera’s repertoire, paying respect to the old Italian warhorses but adding contemporary work, some of it so new the paint isn’t dry.
“One of the things that’s obvious is there is a renaissance of opera in America,” Zvulun said recently, during an interview at the company’s headquarters in a nondescript office park off Northside Drive. “Some of the greatest composers in America are alive today and are composing an opera a year.”
Zvulun is taking advantage of that flowering, choosing to bolster the 2015-2016 season with two contemporary American operas, "Soldier Songs," by David T. Little and "Three Decembers," by Jake Heggie — both written in the past 10 years — alongside such crowd-pleasers as "La Boheme" and "The Pirates of Penzance."
The risk paid off, as the two new operas were named among the best events of 2015 by this newspaper. For the 2016-2017 season, Zvulun is continuing the strategy.
Going beyond the ABCs (“Aida,” “Boheme” and “Carmen”) may seem adventurous, but Zvulun sees it as a matter of survival. “The 21st-century audience is a very sophisticated audience,” he said. “They can go home and push a button and see ‘The Man in the High Castle’ on Amazon Prime — which is fantastic by the way.”
To keep that audience interested requires new material and new approaches. Last year’s “Soldier Songs” used projections, animation and rock ‘n’ roll textures in a multimedia examination of the life of the soldier. The libretto was drawn from interviews with soldiers from five wars.
This year’s surrealistic “Maria de Buenos Aires” will also break new ground. It’s part dance, part opera, with a wild storyline that incorporates spoken narration, a Buenos Aires prostitute, ghosts and marionettes. Written in 1968, it was seldom staged until the new century.
The opera will be performed with an augmented tango orchestra, including the accordionlike bandoneon.
Zvulun became acquainted with the tango while he was in Buenos Aires in 2013, directing “Lucrezia Borgia.” He even took a few tango classes, though, he said, “Not too much. Because I have a wife at home. I don’t want her calling me up and asking, ‘What are you doing? Oh, tango again?’”
Like other operas in the Discoveries series, "Maria" will be performed in an alternative venue. That venue is yet to be named. Wherever it is, said Zvulun, "I want to have a sense of the seedy clubs of Buenos Aires." (Zvulun was briefly interested in the Red Light Café until he found out that the club isn't as debauched as the name implies.)
Zvulun is getting more bang for his bucks by sharing costs on some productions, including "The Secret Gardener," which will be a collaboration with the Glimmerglass Festival in New York.
Yes, opera must compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime, but it has an advantage, Zvulun said. “Nothing else can replicate the experience of being engulfed by the music. Nothing else has the energy that goes from the audience to the stage like opera.”