New Atlanta Opera season touts ‘The Sound of Music,’ Steve Jobs, more

Figaro makes his entrance in the 2014 Opera Philadelphia production of “Barber of Seville.” The Atlanta Opera will use the same sets, costumes and direction (by Michael Shell) in its presentation of the Rossini classic. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLY AND MASSA
Figaro makes his entrance in the 2014 Opera Philadelphia production of “Barber of Seville.” The Atlanta Opera will use the same sets, costumes and direction (by Michael Shell) in its presentation of the Rossini classic. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLY AND MASSA

Atlanta Opera season includes Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” from the Ring Cycle

The Atlanta Opera begins a climb toward a forbidding peak of the operatic art form with the announcement last week that “Das Rheingold” will be part of the 2020-2021 season, followed in 2022 with “Die Walküre.”

The two works are one-half of the four-part “Ring of the Nibelungen” by Richard Wagner, a 15-hour marathon that some consider the acme of musical drama. The Atlanta Opera announced the new season last Thursday.

General and artistic director Tomer Zvulun calls the Wagner piece “a Mount Everest.” Including part of the Ring Cycle in its plans offers strong evidence of his company’s growth, he said. An opera with the challenges of the Ring Cycle “jolts the whole organization to function on a different metabolism.”

A high point of the new season will be the opera’s production of “Das Rheingold,” the first part of Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungen.” CONTRIBUTED BY THE ATLANTA OPERA
A high point of the new season will be the opera’s production of “Das Rheingold,” the first part of Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungen.” CONTRIBUTED BY THE ATLANTA OPERA

But Zvulun suggests that “Das Rheingold” isn’t necessarily the most interesting news of the new season, during which the Atlanta Opera will present three war-horses, a cross-over musical and two contemporary works.

Zvulun himself seems most intrigued by “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a 2017 work by Mason Bates and Mark Campbell. It is only the second production of this much-heralded opera.

The production is a collaboration between the Atlanta Opera, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Austin Opera, and the same cast will perform the Steve Jobs story in all three cities. In Atlanta, the opera will be performed at the Ferst Center for the Arts, through the support of Georgia Tech, an apt partner in this saga of art and science.

The new Atlanta Opera season is similarly balanced between the tried-and-true and the brand-new.

It begins this November with “La Bohème” by Giacomo Puccini, a revival of the 2015 production by the Atlanta Opera, with soprano Jessica Nuccio making her U.S. debut.

This season the Atlanta Opera will reprise its 2015 production of “La Bohème”, which featured Leah Partridge as Musetta and Alan Higgs as Alcindoro in a raucous scene from the Latin Quarter. CONTRIBUTED BY JEFF ROFFMAN
This season the Atlanta Opera will reprise its 2015 production of “La Bohème”, which featured Leah Partridge as Musetta and Alan Higgs as Alcindoro in a raucous scene from the Latin Quarter. CONTRIBUTED BY JEFF ROFFMAN

The main stage presentations continue in January, 2021 with Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” featuring tenor Santiago Ballerini and baritone Theo Hoffman.

What Zvulun calls a "crossover" offering comes in March, 2021 with a new production of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, "The Sound of Music," directed by Francesca Zambello. The production will debut this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival.

“This is kind of a trend,” said Zvulun. “Opera companies are programming crossover pieces, attracting new audiences, and the audiences are eager to see those famous titles in a high-quality level, with an orchestra that is a world-class orchestra, and singers who are sometimes miked, sometimes not miked.”

In May 2021 comes “Das Rheingold,” a 2.5-hour adventure with no intermission, directed by Zvulun. In the four-part Ring Cycle, “Das Rheingold” serves as an overture, stating the main themes, introducing the characters, setting the dramatic machinery in motion.

With gods and monsters, dwarves and treasure, “Das Rheingold” is action-movie-accessible, said Zvulun. “It’s a very Lord of the Rings world. It has mythology and adventure; it’s perfect for new audiences.”

All the Mainstage Series productions will be presented at the 2,750-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

While satisfying the popular demand for the classical repertory with the Mainstage Series, Zvulun has continued to champion new work, presenting opera by living composers in smaller venues as part of the Discoveries Series.

The Discoveries programming this season will bring "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs," to the 969-seat Ferst Center in February 2021, and the chamber opera, "As One," to the 156-seat Out Front Theater.

John Moore will sing the role of Steve Jobs in the Atlanta Opera production of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a Discoveries Series presentation that is part of the 2020-2021 season. CONTRIBUTED BY THE ATLANTA OPERA
John Moore will sing the role of Steve Jobs in the Atlanta Opera production of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a Discoveries Series presentation that is part of the 2020-2021 season. CONTRIBUTED BY THE ATLANTA OPERA

“As One” is about a transgender woman, Hannah, coming to terms with her identity. It is written for two voices, a baritone representing “Hannah Before” and a mezzo-soprano as “Hannah After.” Both singers, accompanied by a string quartet, are on stage before and after Hannah’s transition. Opera News writes that the device “allows us to see Hannah as she presents herself to the world and as she feels she truly is.”

“As One” has become one of the most-produced operas by a living composer, and Zvulun expects sold-out performances.

Since Zvulun arrived as the new artistic director in 2013, the annual budget for the Atlanta Opera has increased from $5 million to $10 million, the number of yearly productions from three to six, and the number of performances from 12 to 32.

Atlanta’s presentations have begun to attract national attention, and 2017’s “The Flying Dutchman” (by Wagner) and this year’s “Salome” (by Richard Strauss, which will be staged Jan. 25-Feb. 2) has put local opera on the radar of international fans of the German composers. “Quite a few German repertory fans are flying in to see ‘Salome’,” said Zvulun, and more will be traveling for “Das Rheingold.”

“The Atlanta Opera has become an interesting opera company,” he said, “that tackles operatic masterpieces that are scary to tackle, like ‘Dutchman’ and ‘Rheingold’ and yet not shy from programming chamber pieces that prompt discussion.”

EVENT PREVIEW

Atlanta Opera’s 2020-2021 season

Mainstage Series

"La Bohème" by Giacomo Puccini. Nov. 7, 10, 13 and 15 in 2020. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2800, cobbenergycentre.com.

"The Barber of Seville" by Gioachino Rossini. Jan. 23, 26, 29 and 31, 2021; Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

"The Sound of Music" by Rogers and Hammerstein. March 6, 9, 12 and 14, 2021; Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

"Das Rheingold" by Richard Wagner. May 1, 4, 7 and 9, 2021. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Discoveries Series

"The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" by Mason Bates and Mark Campbell. A co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Austin Opera. Feb. 11-14, 2021. Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech. 349 Ferst Drive NW, Atlanta (on the Georgia Tech campus). 404-894-2787, arts.gatech.edu.

"As One" by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. March 26, 28, April 1 and 3, 2021. Out Front Theatre, 999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. outfronttheatre.com, 404-448-2755.