Atlanta Opera leader Tomer Zvulun puts stamp on diverse 2014-15 lineup


"Choral Silver Celebration," honoring chorus master Walter Huff's 25th anniversary year, 8 p.m. Sept. 12 and 3 p.m. Sept. 14 at Emory University's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at Kennesaw State University's Bailey Performance Center.

Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," 8 p.m. Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 8 p.m. Nov. 14 , 3 p.m. Nov. 16 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Verdi's "Rigoletto," 8 p.m. Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. March 3, 8 p.m. March 6, 3 p.m. March 8 at Cobb Energy.

Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," 8 p.m. April 4, 7:30 p.m. April 7, 8 p.m. April 10, 3 p.m. April 12 at Cobb Energy.

"Three Decembers," a chamber opera by American composer Jake Heggie, 8 p.m. May 15-16, 6 p.m. May 17 at a venue to be announced.

Season subscriptions are available at Single tickets will be available in August.

Tomer Zvulun, entering his first full season as the Atlanta Opera's general and artistic director, is overseeing an expanded number of productions, will present two programs at a trio of new venues and is involving new collaborative partners.

“One of the keys is to have a continuous presence,” said Zvulun, 37, who was appointed to Atlanta’s top job last June on the strength of his directing work at major U.S. and international opera houses. “When you do three productions a year, it’s simply not enough to stay in people’s memory. And the other thing about extending the schedule is that it allows us to reach different demographics.”

In the 2014-15 season announced Tuesday night, the opera will again present three masterworks in its mainstage season at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre: Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” in November, Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in February-March and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in April.

But in an attempt to build that larger presence and diversify its offerings, the opera will bookend those performances in two productions away from Cobb Energy. It will open the season in September with a "Choral Silver Celebration," honoring chorus master Walter Huff's 25th anniversary, to be presented at Emory University's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and Kennesaw State University's Bailey Performance Center.

The season will close in May with "Three Decembers," a chamber opera by American composer Jake Heggie that will be given its Southeastern premiere at a venue to be announced.

The Israeli-born Zvulun, who will stage direct “Madama Butterfly,” vowed that all three Cobb Energy mainstage operas will be “freshly and newly conceived.” “Butterfly,” for instance, will include projections and other media that will transport viewers to different locations, “allowing us to penetrate into the soul and mind of the heroine,” along with a set from New Orleans Opera.

The Atlanta company will have plenty of high-profile help with its reinterpretation of “Rigoletto,” a co-production with Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Omaha. It will be developed by Zvulun along with accomplished designers John Conklin (set), Robert Wierzel (lighting) and Vita Tzykun (costumes), whose credits include production design of Lady Gaga’s Thanksgiving TV special in 2011.

“In order for us to do new, fresh productions in those different cities, we have to put our forces together and share the costs and collaborate,” Zvulun said of the Atlanta company, which operates on a $5 million annual budget. “It’s a win-win situation.”

He also is clearly excited about presenting “Three Decembers.” Zvulun considers Heggie, best known for the operas “Dead Man Walking” (2000) and “Moby-Dick” (2010), “arguably one of the leading composers of our time.”

Based on an unpublished play by Terrence McNally with a libretto by Gene Scheer, “Three Decembers” is a family dysfunction story centering on a fading Broadway actress and her children. It features three singers and an 11-member musical ensemble.

“I’m a strong believer in expanding the repertory and introducing Atlanta audiences to different pieces,” Zvulun said.

Along with conductor Arthur Fagen and artistic planning director Cory Lippiello, Zvulun will continue to make such introductions as the programmers plot the 2015-16 and 2016-17 lineups.

Success at attracting audiences for contemporary repertory would help the Atlanta Opera to return to its pre-recession practice of presenting four operas per season at Cobb Energy, he said.

Zvulun replaced the company’s leader of eight years, Dennis Hanthorn, who resigned abruptly in late 2012. Hanthorn’s departure was the result of tensions with the board of directors, believed to have been pushing for more conservative programming.

Zvulun said there was no such friction over his diverse first season.

“I’m very lucky that my board is very enthusiastic about the plans for next season,” he said, “and completely supportive of them.”