‘West Side Story,’ ‘Dead Man Walking’ top Atlanta Opera’s 2018-19 season

Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun says the company is raising the bar higher with its 2018-19 season. CONTRIBUTED BY BILL MOHN

Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun says the company is raising the bar higher with its 2018-19 season. CONTRIBUTED BY BILL MOHN

A production of a classic Broadway musical, an opera about a jazz icon, a performance by a bona fide Georgia-born superstar and a show at a newly opened venue are just some of the benchmarks planned for the 2018-19 Atlanta Operaseason.

“We’re moving into a phase of our existence where people are really excited about what’s coming up because every season we are raising the bar a little higher,” says Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun. “I’m really enjoying that sort of dialogue with the Atlanta audience.”

The mainstage season opens Nov. 3-11, 2018, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre with Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," celebrating the composer's centennial year. The production style will remain true to the original Broadway production of 1957. Director Francesca Zambello, general and artistic director of Glimmerglass Festival, who created this production with Houston Grand Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, and Chicago Lyric Opera, will make her Atlanta Opera debut with the production. Choreographer Julio Monge will seek to re-create the look of the original choreography developed by Jerome Robbins. Vanessa Becerra will perform the role of Maria.

In another Atlanta Opera first, the company will present “Dead Man Walking,” the most popular American opera of the new century, from Feb. 2-10, 2019. Composed by Jake Heggie with a libretto by playwright Terrence McNally, “Dead Man Walking” tells the story from the 1993 book, made into a film in 1995, of the relationship between nun Sister Helen Prejean and death row inmate Joseph De Rocher.

Georgia native, Atlanta resident and international opera star Jamie Barton will make her role debut as Sister Prejean. "She's always been eager to sing in Atlanta, but it's not always a possibility," Zvulun says of finally being able to secure a spot for Barton. "It's challenging because her schedule is so busy for the next four or five years. Finding that slot for her a couple years ago made us very, very happy." Michael Mayes will portray De Rocher, a role that he's performed in Madrid, London and Washington, D.C., in previous seasons.

From March 2-10, 2019, for the first time since 2004, the Atlanta Opera will present Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," a new co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Seattle Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre directed by Zvulun and co-created with his frequent collaborators, designers Erhard Rom and Robert Wierzel. David Adam Moore, who performed in the Atlanta Opera's 2015 production of "Winter Journey," will sing the title role of Eugene Onegin. Raquel Gonzalez sings the role of Tatyana, William Burden will sing the role of Lenski, and Stephen Lord, longtime music director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, will make his Atlanta Opera debut as conductor.

Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun says he’s been enjoying a dialogue with the city by presenting new works, both at the company’s mainstage venue (the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre) and in smaller venues around the city. CONTRIBUTED BY PATRICK HEAGNEY

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The mainstage season closes from April 27-May 5, 2019, with a production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Czech soprano Zuzana Markova will make her American debut as Violetta with Mario Chang singing the role of Alfredo and Fabian Veloz as Germont. Arthur Fagen will conduct.

Concurrent with the mainstage season at the Cobb Energy Centre, the Atlanta Opera also presents its Discoveries series, productions of smaller chamber works in intimate venues around Atlanta. The Discoveries series opens at Le Maison Rouge in Paris on Ponce from Sept. 27-Oct. 7, 2018, with the regional premiere of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” a jazz opera, composed by Daniel Schnyder about the life of legendary jazz virtuoso Charlie Parker as he lies on his deathbed. This production will be directed by Omer Ben Seadia and conducted by Clinton Smith.

As part of the Discoveries series, the Atlanta Opera will reprise its 2017 production of Astor Piazzolla's "Maria de Buenos Aires" from March 28-April 7, 2019. Zvulun will direct the production, and Jorge Parodi returns to conduct.

Details are still coming together, but Zvulun says he's also excited about a planned production in spring 2019 at the new City Springs Performing Arts Center in Sandy Springs, which will open for its inaugural season in 2018-19. "I think it's going to be a tremendous asset to Atlanta," says Zvulun. "One of the things that struck me is that it's a great venue for opera. If you look at traditional opera houses, they're all that size, about 900 to 1,400 seats. America has massive opera houses, but having a venue with 1,100 seats is actually a perfect-sized opera house."

Also in the season, the Atlanta Opera Studio, the company’s artist-in-residence program, will return with four singers, one director and one pianist/coach. The program provides participants, who will be announced in March 2018, with special instruction and master classes to help develop their professional careers. The artists of the studio program will present a new, English-language, touring production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” designed to visit schools and community centers around the city and the state.