Atlanta Opera returns to Cobb Energy Centre but keeps the Big Tent

"The Pirates of Penzance" will be part of the 2021-2022 season at the Atlanta Opera. In this 2016 photo Curt Olds performs as Major General Stanley in an earlier Atlanta Opera production of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic. Photo Jeff Roffman
"The Pirates of Penzance" will be part of the 2021-2022 season at the Atlanta Opera. In this 2016 photo Curt Olds performs as Major General Stanley in an earlier Atlanta Opera production of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic. Photo Jeff Roffman

Credit: Jeff Roffman

Credit: Jeff Roffman

The Atlanta Opera is going home again.

After a long absence from its performance space in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the city’s pre-eminent opera company will return to the 2,700-seat facility in the 2021-2022 season, beginning with a production of Handel’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Being away from it was an exile, for almost two years,” said general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun. “It will be an emotional, cathartic experience to be back. It is such a pristine temple of opera, acoustically.”

The Atlanta Opera had big plans for the 2020-2021 season, including performances of “Das Rheingold” from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, a “crossover” presentation of “The Sound of Music,” with the Glimmerglass Festival, and a small stage setting of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a 2017 opera by Mason Bates and Mark Campbell.

Then a worldwide pandemic disrupted those plans. The Cobb center closed its doors. In response, the Atlanta Opera improvised. It created the Atlanta Opera Company Players, a small regional ensemble of performers who didn’t have to travel.

Operas were re-written for smaller casts, like the “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Threepenny Carmen,” and presented outdoors in a 500-seat open-sided tent. Three-hour operas were compressed into a single 90-minute act.

Polly Peachum (Kelly Kaduce) is surrounded by puppet beggars during The Atlanta Opera’s production of “The Threepenny Opera" presented under the Big Tent this spring. Courtesy of Ken Howard
Polly Peachum (Kelly Kaduce) is surrounded by puppet beggars during The Atlanta Opera’s production of “The Threepenny Opera" presented under the Big Tent this spring. Courtesy of Ken Howard

Credit: KenHoward

Credit: KenHoward

It worked. One day earlier this month Zvulun walked out on stage under the Big Tent, pitched in the parking lot of the Cobb center, before a performance of “The Threepenny Opera” and asked the audience a rhetorical question: “How often have you seen a sold-out audience, at an opera, being performed under a tent, in a parking lot, on a Wednesday?”

Answer: We saw it often this past year, and not just on Wednesdays.

Now the opera will be back where it belongs. But the tent is not going away. It will be among the possible sites for the opera’s Discovery Series presentations, which are usually contemporary operas planned for smaller venues.

In fact, the new season will begin in the tent in September. There will be two Discovery Series productions, but neither has been announced yet. Where the tent will be pitched is also unresolved, but, said Zvulun, it’s flexible and easier to store than opera scenery.

In the meantime, for the new season, the Southeastern debut of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” has been promoted from the Discovery Series smaller stage to the main stage.

The other mainstage productions will include Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” and Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

Though Americans are getting vaccinated in great numbers, the opera company will refrain from putting hundreds of people onstage in oversize productions.

Mezzo-soprano Megan Marino, seen here in "The Threepenny Carmen," will perform in the Atlanta Opera's production of Handel's "Julius Caesar," which will bring the opera back to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre for the 2021-2022 season. Courtesy of Ken Howard
Mezzo-soprano Megan Marino, seen here in "The Threepenny Carmen," will perform in the Atlanta Opera's production of Handel's "Julius Caesar," which will bring the opera back to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre for the 2021-2022 season. Courtesy of Ken Howard

Credit: KenHoward

Credit: KenHoward

Instead, more modest productions are planned. “Let us return to Cobb in a safe way,” said Zvulun.

The opera company will continue to seek advice from consultant Dr. Carlos del Rio of the Emory Vaccine Center.

During the previous season, the Atlanta Opera also hired its own risk mitigation coordinator, Kylie Saunders, to track and plan safety precautions. Their efforts have, so far, been successful.

Zvulun points out that the company had 40 performances over the last year, staged by 150 musicians, designers and technicians. They entertained 5,000 audience members and had zero outbreaks.

The company also launched the Spotlight Streaming service, reaching a new audience online with digitally recorded performances and additional material.

Zvulun said that this year is a good time for operas that make people laugh, crowd-pleasers rather than tragedies. “Now is the time to laugh and be inspired,” he said. “In these shows, nobody dies. That’s unusual. In opera everybody (usually) dies. But look at the whole season: nobody dies. Hell, we’ve already had enough of that.”

OPERA PREVIEW

The Atlanta Opera’s mainstage productions in its 2021-2022 season will include:

Handel’s “Julius Caesar”

A production created by Tomer Zvulun for the Israeli Opera, featuring soprano Jasmine Habersham and mezzo-soprano Megan Marino. Nov. 6, 9, 12 and 14,

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”

With tenor Santiago Ballerini. Jan. 22, 25, 28, 30 in 2022.

“The Barber of Seville”

Inspired by the work of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, and featuring mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella. March 5, 8, 11, 13 in 2022.

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs”

The opera company will stage this Southeastern premiere of “a co-production with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Austin Opera. There will also be two Discovery Series operas. April 30, May 3, 6, 8 in 2022.

Single tickets go on sale Aug. 17. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-881-8801, atlantaopera.org.

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