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BWW Feature: Bring on the PAGLIACCI, as Tomer Zvulun and The Atlanta Opera Still Connect with Live Audiences, Starting Oct. 22

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Six chamber operas will be performed across the season in the prominent locations

BWW Feature: Bring on the PAGLIACCI, as Tomer Zvulun and The Atlanta Opera Still Connect with Live Audiences, Starting Oct. 22
Atlanta Opera's Tent with company chief Tomer
Zvulun at Oglethorpe University. Photo: Felipe Barral

When the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus folded its tent for the last time, I'm not sure whether they held on to its title of "the Greatest Show on Earth."

But Atlanta is showing that there's still a big tent around with some great shows to be seen. It's the Atlanta Opera, headed by General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, which starts its six-opera season with I PAGLIACCI, directed by Zvulun, on October 22.

"Two things have become clear to me since the pandemic started," he says. "The irreplaceability of live performance, and the importance of the connection between an organization and the community it serves." That also means, he notes, besides the live performances, the troupe will be filmed at work by the company's newly formed digital media department for future broadcast, under the direction of Zvulun, Ryan McKinny and Felipe Barral.

BWW Feature: Bring on the PAGLIACCI, as Tomer Zvulun and The Atlanta Opera Still Connect with Live Audiences, Starting Oct. 22
Who's that masked man? Atlanta Opera's Zvulun,
directing a rehearsal. Photo: Felipe Barral

Of course, the company's performances aren't being done on the same scale as they were in the 2750-seat Cobb Energy Center, but they're showing that opera is alive and well in Georgia's capital, even if it's only to about a tenth the size it used to be.

(A side note: The Cobb Center, the opera's home base, was the stand-in for the Center for Disease Control on "The Walking Dead," TV's most popular drama on basic cable for the 18-49 demographic.)

The Atlanta Opera's new "Big Tent" series, a completely transformed vision for the 2020-21 season. Six chamber operas will be performed across the season in three prominent greater Atlanta locations, starting with a baseball field at Oglethorpe University. The venue? A custom-made side-less tent, seating up to 240 in physically distanced "Circle Pods," that protects audiences from the elements while allowing fresh air to flow freely.

Zvulun is not simply playing it safe with the new (hopefully, temporary) version of his company. The concept of the Big Tent series is to pair popular chamber operas with lesser-known pieces in the mode of what the company used to call its Discoveries series, dedicated to smaller, seldom-staged works in nontraditional spaces.

BWW Feature: Bring on the PAGLIACCI, as Tomer Zvulun and The Atlanta Opera Still Connect with Live Audiences, Starting Oct. 22
In rehearsal for PAGLIACCI. Photo: Felipe Barral

Yes, there are some war horses-the season opener is Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI (Oct 22-Nov 13)-but it's alternating in repertory with the very much less known THE KAISER OF ATLANTIS by Viktor Ullmann (Oct 23-Nov 14).

KAISER is a choice with great personal meaning for Israeli-born Zvulun: It was composed during World War II in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Each opera will have nine performances.

Both operas, with themes of power, death and whether "the show must go on," will be seen in brand-new productions directed by Zvulun that share the setting of a traveling circus caught in the middle of a pandemic in a dystopian world.

Casting has also been reimagined for the Big Tent series, in consideration of the dangers of constant travel faced by performing artists. Twelve luminaries of the industry have been hired as a group, the Atlanta Opera Company Players, for the whole season. Luckily, there's a pool of exceptional talent in the region, all of them live in the Atlanta metro area or within a few hours' drive.

PAGLIACCI stars baritone Reginald Smith Jr. and soprano Talise Trevigne, both recently seen in PORGY AND BESS, Trevigne in the title role. Baritone Michael Mayes, who headlined the recent DEAD MAN WALKING, sings the title role in KAISER, with bass Kevin Burdette as his rival, Death. The cast also includes tenor Alek Shrader, mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack and soprano Jasmine Habersham.

Obviously, the health and safety of its audiences, artists and backstage personnel were the number one priority as the company made plans to resume live performance. The Atlanta Opera established a Health & Safety Advisory Committee made up of epidemiologists, public health specialists and doctors. Based on their recommendations, each of the featured 2020-21 operas is under two hours long and relies only on a small cast and reduced orchestra, usually with fewer than six singers and only a dozen instrumentalists.

Other protocols include mask requirements, staggered entry times for audiences, touchless customer interactions, and no intermissions.

Tickets for the fall performances can be purchased online or by calling 404-881-8885. (The operas will be performed at three prominent greater Atlanta locations, starting with the baseball field at Oglethorpe University.) Circle Pod pricing includes seating for up to four people, with ticket prices starting at $149 per pod or $37.50 per person.

Due to capacity restraints, obviously, availability is limited. The digital performances for all six of the season's works, including exclusive behind-the-scenes content, will be available for $99 for the year ($50 for current Atlanta Opera subscribers).


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From This Author Richard Sasanow