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02/23/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/23/2021 15:10

Next in Live, In-Person “Big Tent” Series, The Atlanta Opera Presents World Premiere Adaptations of Two Iconic Operas Plus Three Concerts This Spring

February 23, 2021

'One of the few American companies to perform live for in-person audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic,' The Atlanta Opera has already 'demonstrate[d] how imaginative direction can harness COVID restrictions for artistic effect' (Wall Street Journal). After the success of its acclaimed fall offerings, now the company presents an equally innovative spring lineup of live, in-person events, highlighted by the world premiere productions of new adaptations of two iconic operas. Deconstructed to accommodate the particular needs and nature of the current season, The Threepenny Operaand The Threepenny Carmen are both conceived by Tomer Zvulun - Atlanta's Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director - as 'opera for starved societies.' Together with threelive spring concerts, the new adaptations will feature top-tier artists performing for live audiences in The Atlanta Opera's customized circus tent, now mounted just outside the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in what represents a symbolic near-homecoming. For those unable to attend in person, all five productions will also be filmed for future release in the company's new Spotlight Media digital streaming service. As Opera Wire reports, The Atlanta Opera is proving itself 'one of the most exciting opera companies in America.' Click here to see PBS Newshour's segment on the success of the company's 'Big Tent' series.

Zvulun, the 'innovative risk-taker … bringing change to The Atlanta Opera' (Opera News), explains:

'As we continue to blaze an original path that will allow us to perform during a pandemic, we remain inspired by the century-old words of Kurt Weill: 'If the boundaries of opera cannot accommodate the theater of our time, then these boundaries must be broken.' So we're taking a look at two iconic works from past centuries - Bizet's Carmen and Weill's Threepenny Opera - and asking what they mean for us today. These operas tell stories of marginalized characters and a society that is on the brink of starvation. We've deconstructed these works and reconstructed them on a smaller scale, one more suited to our current times. Everything has to be scaled down during the pandemic. Audiences are smaller, run-times are shorter and grand operas must be pared down to focus on the essentials. We're living in a lean, threepenny world right now, so it's appropriate that we're paying homage to Kurt Weill and producing threepenny operas that accommodate our present times.'

With the first two productions in its 'Big Tent' series, The Atlanta Opera triumphed not only artistically, but in terms of public health. Through a combination of meticulously researched protocols that included small audiences, screening surveys, temperature checks, masking, social distancing, seating pods, plexiglass barriers, contact tracing and no intermissions - not to mention the unique design of the open-air, open-walled circus tent itself - the company succeeded in featuring a cast and crew of 130 people in live performances for a total of 2,500 attendees without triggering a single new outbreak of the virus.

For the upcoming spring presentations, Atlanta looks forward to building on this singular success. As well as showcasing innovative new collaborations with the Kurt Weill Foundation, the Center for Puppetry Arts and Flamenco artists, the productions will feature sopranos Jasmine Habersham and Susanne Burgess; mezzo-sopranos Megan Marino and Gabrielle Beteag; tenor Richard Trey Smagur; baritones Michael Mayes, Calvin Griffin and Joshua Conyers; and bass Kevin Burdette, all of whom are members of the Atlanta Opera Company and Studio Players: world-class singers based in and around the Atlanta metro area, hired for the duration of the season. Also featured are the company debuts of conductor Francesco Milioto and flamenco dancer Sonia Olla, as well as the returns of Jay Hunter Morris, Kelly Kaduce, Theo Hoffman and Gina Perregrino.

The Threepenny Opera (April 22-May 9)

Set to a libretto by Bertolt Brecht, it was The Threepenny Opera that established Kurt Weill as one of the most successful composers of Weimar Germany. Combining cynicism and hard truths with deceptively tuneful, accessible music - including the now-beloved standards 'Pirate Jenny' and 'The Ballad of Mack the Knife' - the opera offers a biting satire of the establishment. To tell its story succinctly while retaining as much as possible of the original score, Atlanta embarked on an ambitious partnership with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, through which Tomer Zvulun has created a streamlined new adaptation that looks forward to a long life in the repertoire.

In Atlanta's recent Big Tent staging of The Kaiser of Atlantis, it was Zvulun whose 'sensitive direction leaven[ed] the nightmarish satire with humanity' (Wall Street Journal), and for the upcoming premiere of his adaptation, it is he who directs Weill's satire as well. By placing the principal singers in cages, Zvulun helps maintain a safe distance between them while also illustrating the ways their characters feel trapped within the various roles they inhabit. Similarly, by using puppets to play the prostitutes, beggars, gangsters and constables who normally fall to the opera's chorus, he not only addresses the need for a reduced cast, but also provides a pointed metaphor about the limited agency accorded to such groups in society. The puppets will be designed by Emmy-nominated Artistic Director Jon Ludwig and Resident Puppet Builder Jason Hines of Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts, the nation's largest organization devoted to the art form. Forging an aesthetic link with the puppets that also offers additional virus protection, the singers will wear giant heads created by Costume Designer Erik Teague, a two-time winner of the Kennedy Center's Barbizon Award whose recent work includes a graphic novel of Fidelio for Washington National Opera.

Atlanta's world premiere production of Zvulun's adaptation stars Grammy-winning tenor Jay Hunter Morris, one of the quintessential Wagnerians of our time, in his role debut as the notorious criminal Macheath. Morris sings opposite the Jenny of 'standout' mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino (Opera News), a former member of the Atlanta Opera Studio young artist program who has since graced multiple company stagings including that of Weill's Seven Deadly Sins. Singing Jonathan Peachum is bass Kevin Burdette, a Company Players member heard on the Metropolitan Opera's Grammy-winning record of The Tempest, with soprano Kelly Kaduce, 'an exceptional actress whose performance was as finely modulated dramatically as it was musically' (Opera News), as his daughter, Polly. Atlanta Opera Studio members Joshua Conyers, who boasts 'a deliciously honeyed baritone that would seduce anyone' (Opera News), and Susanne Burgess, a British soprano known for her 'unique combination of precision and wonder' (Opera Wire), play police chief Tiger and his daughter, Lucy, respectively. As narrator and street singer, Tom Key, Artistic Director of Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit, completes the cast, and Francesco Milioto, Music Director of Opera San Antonio and Artistic Advisor of Milwaukee's Florentine Opera, makes his company debut on the podium, where he shares conducting duties with The Kaiser of Atlantis's Clinton Smith.

The Threepenny Carmen (April 15-May 8)

Adapting Carmen, one of the most iconic and enduringly popular operas of all time, presented Zvulun with particular challenges. Rather than simply stripping the work of its length and grandeur, he found himself considering what Bizet's 1875 classic might mean for audiences today. To capture its essence as an exploration of sexual freedom, social hierarchies and the class system, he worked with Jorge Parodi, the Artistic Director of Opera Hispánica who previously conducted Atlanta's productions of María de Buenos Aires and Frida.

Again directed by Zvulun himself, Atlanta's world premiere production of The Threepenny Carmen updates the action to a Spanish-themed dive bar, where Carmen herself works as a cabaret singer. Designed by ArtsImpulse Theatre Award-winner Julia Noulin-Mérat and Joanna Schmink respectively, the sets and costumes draw inspiration from the films of Pedro Almodóvar, using bold primary colors and a larger-than-life aesthetic to reflect the bar owner's crudely reductive approach to the cultures he exploits. Flamenco features heavily in this conception, and the production marks the Atlanta Opera debut of Flamenco dance legend Sonia Olla, 'a furnace of earthy sensuality' (New York Times) whose extensive choreography credits include Madonna's 2015-16 world tour.

The Threepenny Carmen's premiere production will be anchored by five of the Atlanta Opera Company Players. American-Italian mezzo-soprano Megan Marino undertakes the title role, after performing one of Carmen's arias at Atlanta's recent 'Mezzo Extravaganza' concert; the Wall Street Journal 'was particularly struck by Ms. Marino's bleak, naked performance of 'En vain pour éviter,'' concluding: 'This Carmen sees her coming death with a fatalistic chill.' The role of Micaela is sung by soprano Jasmine Habersham, best known to Atlanta audiences from The Pirates of Penzance and Out of Darkness: Two Remain. 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner RichardTrey Smagur, known for his 'attractive lyric tenor' and 'vivid presence' (Opera Today), sings Don Jose, while Escamillo is shared between baritones Michael Mayes, a firm Atlanta favorite for whom 'the word powerful cannot be overused' (Huffington Post), and Sullivan Foundation Award-winner Theo Hoffman. The cast also features two Atlanta Opera Studio members, with 2020 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions-winning mezzo Gabrielle Beteag as Mercedes and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin, last seen in The Kaiser of Atlantis, as El Dancairo. Rounding out the cast are Nathan Munson, whose 'strong sensitive lyric tenor' (Schmopera) was previously heard in Atlanta's productions of Frida and Seven Deadly Sins, as El Remendado; award-winning Mexican soprano Alejandra Sandoval as Frasquita; and The Threepenny Opera's Tom Key as Lilas Pastia. Zvulun's collaborator Parodi, an Argentinean-born conductor blessed with 'the most expressive conducting hands since Stokowski's' (New York Daily News), conducts.

Big Tent concerts (April 17, May 1 & May 8)

In addition to the opera productions, The Atlanta Opera showcases the Company Players and Studio Artists in three live Big Tent concerts this spring. Michael Mayes is among those featured in 'Crossroads: A Variety Show' (April 17). The Company Players return for ImagineBroadway (May 1), and the series concludes with a Concert for Unity, featuring Black Opera Stars (May 8). Led by Company Player Morris Robinson, the concert will be presented in collaboration with the City of South Fulton Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs and Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company, whose mission is to celebrate the rich traditions of Black storytelling while giving voice to bold artists from all cultures.

Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media

The Atlanta Opera's new digital subscription service, Spotlight Media, rolls out a substantial new streaming bundle each month. This month saw the launch of Orfano Mondo, a world premiere film series by Company Player Ryan McKinny and Emmy-winning filmmaker Felipe Barral. Taking its title from the prologue to Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Orfano Mondo ('orphan world') addresses the fears surrounding live performance during the pandemic. Through scenes from Atlanta's two live fall operas in the Big Tent, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, and material filmed expressly for the series, each episode explores an aria from one of the fall productions, and includes contextualizing moments to show the artists' resilience as they persevere against the odds. Baritone and budding filmmaker McKinny, who conceived the project, explains:

'The peculiar set of circumstances that we find ourselves in - a once-in-a-century pandemic that led artists to pursue their art in wildly new and different ways and caused audiences to seek art wherever they could find it - demanded a deeper conversation about the balance between art and risk.'

Performed in Italian and German with English subtitles available, each Orfano Mondo episode is 10-15 minutes long. Available now, the first four episodes feature arias from Zvulun's company premiere of The Kaiser of Atlantis, a chilling satire on Hitler by eventual Auschwitz victims Viktor Ullmann and Peter Kien. 'This was avant-garde theater done well,' declared the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Baritone Michael Mayes was 'a perfect Kaiser villain, vocally and dramatically,' and the staging 'reinforced Zvulun's concept: humanity must continue to create art, even amidst crisis and uncertainty' (Opera News).

Scheduled for release over the coming months, the next four episodes will showcase arias from Zvulun's take on Pagliacci, Leoncavallo's story of fatal jealousies in a commedia dell'arte troupe. Opera News praised the production's 'world-class singers,' singling out the 'godlike voice' of baritone Reginald Smith, Jr.'s Tonio and the 'supercharged tenor' with which Richard Trey Smagur 'conveyed Canio's despair.' In a five-star review, Bachtrack concluded: 'Atlanta Opera has pulled off a great artistic and logistical success … almost to the point of being too good to be true.'

Other upcoming releases on the Spotlight Media platform include selections from the fall 'Crossroads' concert. Featuring Company Players Jamie Barton, Meg Marino, Michael Mayes and Morris Robinson in selections including 'Can the Circle Be Unbroken?' and 'Amazing Grace,' this was welcomed as 'an entertaining performance that demonstrated the singers' ability to sing these more vernacular American styles with authenticity' (EarRelevant). In an exclusive Zoom conversation, subscribers can also see the singers talk about the experience of returning to the genres they knew and loved before discovering opera.

Previous Spotlight Media releases include another Big Tent concert: 'Mezzo Extravaganza,' which salutes the superlative voices of mezzo-sopranos Gabrielle Beteag, Daniela Mack, Megan Marino and Jamie Barton, BBC Music's '2020 Personality of the Year.' And in a series of 'Love Letters to Atlanta,' members of the Company Players celebrate the Georgia capital and its inhabitants by singing a song of personal significance - and talking about what it means to them - at an iconic Atlanta venue. The first three 'Love Letters' see Morris Robinson sing 'The Impossible Dream' from Man of La Mancha, Jamie Barton sing 'Georgia on My Mind' and Kevin Burdette sing 'If Ever I Would Leave You' from Camelot.

Single-performance Spotlight Media passes start at $10 and annual passes are priced at $99 per viewing household. More information is available here.

About The Atlanta Opera

The Atlanta Opera's mission is to build the major international opera company that Atlanta deserves, while reimagining what the art form can be. Founded in 1979, the company works with world-renowned singers, conductors, directors, and designers who seek to enhance the art form. Under the leadership of internationally recognized stage director and Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, The Atlanta Opera expanded from three to four mainstage productions at Cobb Energy Centre and launched the acclaimed Discoveries series. In recent years, the company has been named among the 'Best of 2015' by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award, and recently won ArtsATL's 2019 Luminary Award for Community Engagement in recognition of its successful Veterans Program in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation. In addition, The Atlanta Opera was featured in a 2018 Harvard Business School case study about successful organizational growth, and Zvulun was invited to present a TEDx Talk at Emory University entitled 'The Ambidextrous Opera Company, or Opera in the Age of iPhones.' For more information, visit atlantaopera.org.

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The Atlanta Opera's Big Tent Series: spring productions
The Atlanta Opera Big Tent, outdoors at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
April 15, 17, 23, 25, 28 & 30; May 2m, 6 & 8 at 8pm (matinee 2pm)
The Threepenny Carmen (Carmen in four scenes)
Music: Georges Bizet; libretto: (pending)
World premiere of new adaptation
Sung in French with English narration and supertitles

Carmen: Megan Marino / Ginger Costa-Jackson
Micaela: Jasmine Habersham
Don Jose: Richard Trey Smagur
Escamillo: Michael Mayes / Theo Hoffman
El Dancairo: Calvin Griffin / Brian James Myer
El Remendado: Nathan Munson
Frasquita: Alejandra Sandoval
Mercedes: Gabrielle Beteag
Lilas Pastia: Tom Key
Flamenco dancer: Sonia Olla

Stage director: Tomer Zvulun
Conductor: Jorge Parodi
Set designer Julia Noulin-Mérat
Costume designer: Joanna Schmink
Projection designer: Erin Teachman
Lighting designer: Marcella Barbeau
Assistant director: Bruno Baker
Production stage manager: Megan Bennett
Assistant conductor: Clinton Smith
Musical preparation: Clinton Smith

April 22 & 24; May 1, 5, 7 & 9 at 8pm
The Threepenny Opera
Music: Kurt Weill; libretto: Bertolt Brecht
World premiere of new adaptation, created in partnership with The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music
Sung in English with English narration and supertitles

Jenny: Gina Perregrino
Jonathan Peachum: Kevin Burdette
Mrs. Peachum: TBA
Polly: Kelly Kaduce
Macheath: Jay Hunter Morris
Narrator / Street Singer: Tom Key
Tiger: Joshua Conyers
Lucy: Susanne Burgess

Stage director: Tomer Zvulun
Conductor: Francesco Milioto / Clinton Smith
Set designer: Julia Noulin-Mérat
Costume designer: Erik Teague
Projection designer: Erin Teachman
Lighting designer: Marcella Barbeau
Puppet designers: Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines, Center for Puppetry Arts
Assistant director: Bruno Baker
Production stage manager: Megan Bennett
Musical preparation: Elena Kholodova

Big Tent Concerts

April 17 at 2pm
Crossroads: The Sequel
May 1 at 2pm
Imagine Broadway, featuring The Atlanta Opera Company Players
May 8 at 2pm
Concert for Unity, featuring Black Opera Stars

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© 21C Media Group, February 2021