The Atlanta Opera's 2018-19 Season: Love Transcends Death in Ambitious New Mainstage Productions and Innovative Discoveries Series
"The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death." So said Oscar Wilde's Salomé, anticipating the theme running through all six of the works that make up The Atlanta Opera's 2018-19 season. The six are linked also by their novelty, for under the leadership of Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, Atlanta's new season consists entirely of stagings conceived over the past few years. Created in collaboration with leading opera companies from around the world, four are ambitious mainstage productions: the blockbuster musical West Side Story, 19th-century classics Eugene Onegin and La traviata, and the Southeast premiere of Dead Man Walking, a major 21st-century addition to the canon. Rounding out the season, Charlie Parker's Yardbird and Maria de Buenos Aires will be presented in the Discoveries series, which breaks down barriers between artists and their audience by providing authentic, intimate and immersive experiences in nontraditional spaces. The winner of a "Best of Atlanta" award from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an International Opera Award nomination, the series represents one of the many innovations behind the company's current wave of extraordinary creative and economic resurgence.
"The way we conceived this season was by thinking a lot about our audience. Audiences these days expect incredible fluidity when it comes the latest technology, entertainment, interactivity, multiculturalism, and innovation. They want to see something spectacular. We want to make sure that every production we do this year taps into that fluidity and provides something that they can't see anywhere else, something of the highest quality that goes straight to their hearts.
"The overarching idea behind the season - both mainstage and Discoveries - is something very powerful that Oscar Wilde says in Salomé, that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. In general, opera is about sex and death. But each and every one of the operas we are presenting this season is about the idea of love, and the different kinds of love that transcend the mystery of death."
See Zvulun discuss the upcoming season further.
About the mainstage 2018-19 productions
Continuing its new annual commitment to showcasing great operatic voices in musical theater, The Atlanta Opera inaugurates the 2018-19 mainstage season and commemorates this year's Bernstein centennial with a new treatment of West Side Story, starring tenor Andrew Bidlack, named one of the "top 25 brilliant young artists" by Opera News, and soprano Vanessa Becerra, whose "full, beautifully focused soprano and passionate theatrical intensity" impressed the Wall Street Journal. Created by Francesca Zambello, General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival and Artistic Director of Washington National Opera, this incorporates Jerome Robbins's original choreography into a major new co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Glimmerglass Festival. When it bowed in Houston this past April, Zambello's staging of the beloved show impressed the Houston Chronicle as "relevant and at times, transcendent" (Nov 3-11).
Building on the resounding success of last season's world premiere production of Jake Heggie's Out of Darkness: Two Remain in the Discoveries series, Atlanta rings in the New Year with the Southeast premiere of Dead Man Walking (2000), arguably the most popular American opera of the 21st century. Based on Sister Helen Prejean's best-selling account of her experience as a spiritual advisor on death row, Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally's opera has been credited with making "the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since West Side Story" (The Guardian).The company presents the opera in a new production from Zvulun that showcases superstar mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton - winner of the 2017 Beverly Sills Artist Award, 2015 Richard Tucker Award, and 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition - in her role debut as Sister Helen. Barton will be joined by Sweeney Todd's Michael Mayes, reprising his iconic portrayal of condemned murderer Joseph De Rocher, as seen at venues including London's Barbican, Washington National Opera, and San Francisco Opera, where he was "by far the best singer and most convincing actor in the cast" (Wall Street Journal). Mayes, who also headlined Atlanta's Sweeney Todd last season, reunites with his Todd co-star Maria Zifchak, who lends her "rich-voiced mezzo-soprano" (New York Times) to the role of De Rocher's mother, with Joseph Mechavich, principal conductor of Kentucky Opera, on the podium (Feb 2-10). A co-production with the Israeli Opera, the production will then travel to Tel Aviv, marking the first time an American opera will ever have been staged in Israel.
Next up at the Cobb Energy Centre is Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, in a new treatment by Zvulun that represents a co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Hawaii OperaTheatre, Seattle Opera, and Michigan Opera Theatre. Baritone David Adam Moore, who boasts an "enviable swagger coupled with a subtle musicality and big, handsome voice" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), sings the title role, opposite soprano Raquel González - a "true artist" (Opera News) - as Tatyana, with the Lensky of tenor William Burden, who may be heard on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Thomas Adès's The Tempest. Stephen Lord, principal conductor of the Michigan Opera Theatre and music director for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, conducts (March 2-10).
To conclude the mainstage season, The Atlanta Opera presents Verdi's La traviata at the Cobb Centre, in a lavish new co-production with Washington National Opera and Glimmerglass Opera. Making her U.S. and house debuts in the title role is Czech-born soprano Zuzana Marková, whose recent headlining appearance in Opéra Grand Avignon'sLucia di Lammermoor prompted critics to christen her "the next great coloratura soprano" (Opera Wire). She will be joined by Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang, a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Program, as Alfredo, with the "strong stage presence" (Opera News) of Argentine baritone Fabián Veloz as his father, Germont. Music Director Arthur Fagen, who launched his Atlanta Opera tenure in 2010, leads from the pit (April 27-May 5).
About the 2018-19 Discoveries series
The 2018-19 lineup also boasts a pair of productions in the Discoveries series, which celebrate jazz and tango respectively. First up is the Southern premiere of Charlie Parker's Yardbird (2015), a fictionalized account of the great saxophonist's final hours, created by jazz musician Daniel Schnyder and librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly. Already a hit at proscenium theaters in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and London, the operahas now been re-orchestrated by the composer expressly for its jazz-club debut at Atlanta's Lé Maison Rouge in Paris on Ponce, where Israeli director Omer Ben Seadialooks forward to recreating Birdland, Parker's famed Manhattan club. The role of tortured jazz icon Parker will be shared between the "golden tenor" (Opera News) of Martin Bakari and the "big, warm, confident voice" (Palm Beach Arts Paper) of Joshua Stewart, with star soprano Angela Brown as his mother, Addie, the role she created for the opera's world premiere and has since reprised in a "powerful performance" that "recalled the great blues divas of old" (The Telegraph, UK). Baritone Sidney Outlaw, a 2018 Grammy Award nominee who undertook the title role in The Barber of Seville at The Atlanta Opera four years ago, sings the part of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, and Clinton Smith, music director of Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers, conducts. As all four originally scheduled performances have already sold out, four more have now been added (Sep 27-Oct 7).
For the second event in the 2018-19 Discoveries series, The Atlanta Opera brings back one of its biggest recent hits, when Argentinean-born conductor Jorge Parodi, blessed with "the most expressive conducting hands since Stokowski's" (New York Daily News), leads a revival of Zvulun's sold-out staging of Astor Piazzolla's tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires at Lé Maison Rouge (March 28-31). When it debuted last year, the production was heralded as an "ideal marriage" of opera and venue. Arts ATL continued:
"Zvulun ... staged the show as immersive theater, taking advantage of Lé Maison Rouge's innate 'red velvet bar' character to emulate that of a Buenos Aires tango bar and surround the audience with action at close range. The intimate approach and the venue's evocative ambiance truly lent power to the performance."
Initially unique to Atlanta, Zvulun's staging was subsequently mounted by New Orleans Opera and is coming to New York City Opera this fall.
About The Atlanta Opera
The Atlanta Opera is one of the finest regional opera companies in the nation. In 2013, the company recruited internationally recognized stage director Tomer Zvulun as the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director. In the 2014-15 season, the company launched the acclaimed Discoveries series of operas staged in alternative theaters around Atlanta. The program was recognized by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as part of its "Best of 2015" awards and the company was nominated for an International OperaAward in London in 2016. The Discoveries series has grown from three to twelve performances over the past four seasons. In the 2016-17 season, the company expanded its mainstage season from three to four productions at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The company works with world-renowned singers, conductors, directors, and designers who seek to enhance the art form and make it accessible for a sophisticated, 21st-century audience. The Atlanta Opera was founded in 1979 and to this day adheres to its mission to enrich lives through opera.