Atlanta Opera’s new season: Puccini, Mozart, Bernstein and Wagner

Candide, the ultimate optimist, observed the disasters of 1755 — disease, persecution, earthquake, murder — with a chipper attitude.

Whether Voltaire’s character was misguided or wise, Candide’s resolve at the end of his adventures — that we must cultivate our own gardens — is an appropriate directive for the 2020s: If you want to turn this into the best of all worlds, then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Taking on the job of cultivating Atlanta’s garden, in a time of disease, war and natural disaster, is the Atlanta Opera, whose new season will include performances of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” and not a moment too soon.

“It’s very purposeful that we programmed it in the middle of this pandemic, or at the end of this pandemic, or wherever the world is at now,” said Tomer Zvulun, general and artistic director of the Atlanta Opera.

“It’s not a coincidence that Bernstein wrote this after the Holocaust, and that Voltaire wrote (the book) after a big earthquake that wiped out three-quarters of the population of Lisbon,” Said Zvulun.

The message, from both artists, is one of perseverance, he said. “We have to figure out a way to keep going, despite racial tension, despite the pandemic, despite the war in Ukraine, and keep some sparkle in the eyes.”

Like the rest of us, the opera company itself has been through a harrowing two years, performing in a tent for a year and returning to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre only last fall.

Credit: Orel Cohen

Credit: Orel Cohen

In the face of continuing uncertainty, the Atlanta Opera, whose 2021-2022 season continues this weekend with “The Barber of Seville,” announced it’s 2022-2023 season Thursday. The programming would be ambitious in a normal year, and is optimistic in this one. But Zvulun, celebrating 10 years at the helm of the Atlanta Opera, is thinking big.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that what we are preparing for is the most exciting season I have ever put together,” he said, “with the most exciting composers, their best-loved works and the best singers that we’ve ever brought to Atlanta.”

Credit: SORS Seattle

Credit: SORS Seattle

Those works include “Das Rheingold,” one of the four operas by Richard Wagner that are part of his “Der Ring des Nibelungen” cycle, one of the most challenging series in the art form.

“Rheingold” was originally planned for the 2020-2021 season, to be followed by “Die Walküre” in 2021-2022, but the pandemic intervened. Now the Atlanta organization is starting back up that forbidding slope. “Die Walküre” is planned for the 2023-2024 season.

Zvulun said that the delay has helped the company prepare, and that they are ready for the climb. “We feel that as a team we are emerging out of the pandemic stronger than we were before the pandemic.” He added, with tongue in cheek, that “Rheingold” was the “easy” opera out of the four.

This production will present otherworldly scenes with the help of scenic and projections designer Erhard Rom and lighting designer Robert Wierzel. Greer Grimsley will be featured in the role of the god Wotan.

Also on the books for 2022-2023 are “Don Giovanni” by Mozart and “Madama Butterfly” by Puccini.

Credit: Yoshinobu Fukaya

Credit: Yoshinobu Fukaya

“Butterfly,” featuring Yasko Sato as Cio-Cio San, is a beloved tale, but it also calls up questions about cultural appropriation and “yellowface” performance. Consequently, the opera is teaming with the Japan-American Society of Georgia to discuss those issues, and said, in a statement, “The Atlanta Opera will offer a variety of events that will explore the problematic racial and gender stereotypes that are at this opera’s foundation.”

Atlanta’s staging of “Giovanni” was created by Kristine McIntyre for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and it places Mozart’s tale of revenge and desire in the film noir world of “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep.”

Incomplete at press time were arrangements to perform two works in the Discoveries series, which is devoted to introducing audiences to new or seldom performed works.

If things go as planned, this season’s Discoveries series will include “The Snowy Day” an opera based on Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 children’s book, composed by Joel Thompson with a libretto by Andrea Davis Pinckney.

Also planned for the series is a new version of Bela Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” in partnership with Kennesaw State University.


SEASON PREVIEW

The Atlanta Opera’s 2022-2023 season, announced Thursday, will include the following works:

“Madama Butterfly,” by Giacomo Puccini, conducted by Timothy Myers, directed by Tomer Zvulun; Nov. 5, 8. 11 and 13; Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“Don Giovanni,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by Arthur Fagen, directed by Kristine McIntyre; Jan. 21, 24, 27 and 29, 2023; Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“Candide,” by Leonard Bernstein, conducted by Jim Lowe, directed by Allison Moritz; March 4, 7 and 12, 2023, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“Das Rheingold,” by Richard Wagner, conducted by Patrick Summers, directed by Tomer Zvulun; April 29 and May 2, 5 and 7; at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre is at 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway. For ticket information call the ticket office at 404-881-8885, or visit atlantaopera.org.