Troubling relationships and powerful women: all are part of the 2019-2020 season from the Atlanta Opera, which begins Nov. 2-10 with Rossini’s Cinderella tale, “La Cenerentola.”
Details of the new season were announced Thursday, and they offer fresh evidence that the opera continues to grow, adding performances and expanding its repertoire.
The theme for the new season is “Dangerous Liaisons,” a description that applies to the star-crossed heroine of “Madama Butterfly” (by Giacomo Puccini), the scheming temptress of “Salome” (by Richard Strauss) and the stormy marriage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera depicted in “Frida” (by Robert Xavier Rodriguez).
Those works will be all part of the new season. Also on tap for the coming year: the classic low country drama, “Porgy and Bess” and tragic story of an American POW, “Glory Denied.”
“We’re at significant operating capacity,” said artistic director Tomer Zvulun. “We have 32 performances a year, which is a significant increase from 12, when I arrived in 2016.”
The mainstage season begins Nov. 2, 5, 8 and 10 with “La Cenerentola” at the 2,750-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, featuring Emily Fons and Santiago Ballerini.
A new production of “Salome,” directed by Zvulun, opens at the Cobb center Jan. 25, 28, 31 and Feb. 2, 2020. “Porgy and Bess,” directed by David Charles Abell, premieres a new Atlanta production at the Cobb center March 7, 10, 13 and 15, 2020. The mainstage season closes with “Madama Butterfly,” May 2, 5, 8 and 10, 2020, at the Cobb center.
The performances will be distinguished by voices from Georgia-born or Georgia-trained artists, who seem to be making the Atlanta area their home more and more often.
“It’s a thing,” said Zvulun, “and we are capitalizing on it. In this production of ‘Dead Man Walking’ (which just finished four performances at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center), we were able to snag Jamie Barton three years in advance, which is extremely great for us.”
Something similar will be happening in the coming season.
“Salome” will feature Jennifer Holloway, a metro-area resident and University of Georgia graduate, in the title role, along with Jennifer Larmore, born and raised in Cobb County, who will sing the role of Herodias.
Holloway last performed with the Atlanta Opera in 2010 with “Così Fan Tutte,” and Larmore sang here in 2017’s “Seven Deadly Sins.”
George and Ira Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” will boast Tyrone resident Morris Robinson as Porgy, in a production created by Francesca Zambello, general and artistic director of Glimmerglass Festival, who also created this season’s production of “West Side Story.”
An opera singer will, by the nature of the job, spend many days on the road, and since Atlanta is a plane flight from the rest of the world, it’s a handy place to call home. The increasing prestige of the Atlanta Opera means it can attract the great singers who happen to live here.
“They also hear from their colleagues that we treat people well here,” said Zvulun. “We may not be able to compete with the fees that the Met gives their singers, but what we give our artists is the kind of hospitality and treatment and artistic satisfaction of a high quality that attracts people to perform with us.”
Plus, he noted, for these nomads, who spend most of their days in hotels, to be able to perform and go home and sleep in their own beds? Priceless.
The Discoveries Series, which introduces new works in smaller venues, opens with “Frida” on Oct. 5, 9, 11 and 13, at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs, and continues with a production of “Glory Denied,” the story of America’s longest-held POW and his harsh homecoming. The location for this production, which runs May 21-24, is still to be determined.
Zvulun, who served for three years as a medic in the Israeli army, has made a point of programming works that speak to the experience of the soldier, from “Soldier Songs” and “Daughter of the Regiment” to “Silent Night.” The company also is determined to make it possible for members of the military to attend free of charge.
That tradition will continue with “Glory Denied,” by Tom Cipullo.
For these efforts, the Atlanta Opera was recently honored by the online publication ArtsATL with a Luminary Award for its veterans program, which is now supported by a grant from The Home Depot.
The opera, said Zvulun, provides a “platform to share the stories that veterans normally don’t like to share. Veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences, me included, unless it’s to another veteran. And why would you? Most people won’t understand.”
Seeing their stories recreated on stage sometimes “unleashes” something in the veterans who attend, “if we are lucky,” Zvulun said, “so they can be shared with their families, with their loved ones and other people.”
So far more than 5,000 current and former soldiers have attended Atlanta Opera performances.
“We are able to touch people’s hearts,” said Zvulun. “Nothing gets deeper than storytelling that has music and the human voice. It reaches corners in the heart that words will never reach.”
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