The Atlanta Opera reinvents its business model for the 2020-21 season with the “Big Tent” series. Comprising six new chamber opera productions in open-air venues, this innovative new series prioritizes the health and safety of audiences, artists and backstage personnel while maintaining the exceptional level of music and storytellingthat make The Atlanta Opera “one of the most exciting opera companies in America” (Opera Wire). The series launches this fall with alternating presentations of Pagliacci(Oct 22–Nov 13) and The Kaiser of Atlantis (Oct 23–Nov 14), staged in a custom-designed open-air tent on a baseball field at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University. Directed by Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, both productions are entirely new and share a common theme, being built around the concept of a traveling circus caught in the middle of a dystopian world pandemic. Under the direction of Ryan McKinny, Felipe Barral and Zvulun, they will both be filmed for future broadcast.
The “Big Tent” series’ name is a nod to its colorful home, which will travel to three prominent greater Atlanta locations over the course of the 2020-21 season. Pairing popular chamber operas with more experimental choices, the revised six-production season builds on the success of The Atlanta Opera’s award-winning Discoveries series, which presents smaller, seldom-staged works in nontraditional spaces. Scheduled for next spring, the season’s four remaining productions will be announced later this fall.
Two years ago, The Atlanta Opera created a new strategic plan, with a stated mission to “Reimagine Opera.” General & Artistic Director Zvulun, the “innovative risk-taker … bringing change to The Atlanta Opera” (Opera News), says:
“I believe that crisis reveals character and provides opportunities for change. This pandemic has devastated so many lives and businesses. But it has also been a major catalyst in accelerating a shift to a business model that we have been discussing for years: creating a company of players, performing in non-traditional spaces, and developing our video and streaming capabilities.”
To launch The Atlanta Opera’s first foray into film, each production will be digitally captured by the company’s newly formed digital media department, with the goal of wide distribution. The cast for each of the six 2020-21 productions will be drawn from the Atlanta Opera Company Players: twelve world-class singers living in the Atlanta metro area or within a few hours’ drive, who have been hired for the duration of the season. Drawing on the region’s exceptional talent pool, and reflecting its vitality and diversity, these handpicked artists are sopranos Jasmine Habersham and Talise Trevigne; mezzos Jamie Barton, Daniela Mack and Megan Marino; tenors Alek Shraderand Richard Trey Smagur; baritones Michael Mayes and Reginald Smith Jr.; bass-baritone Ryan McKinny; and basses Kevin Burdette and Morris Robinson. Zvulun explains:
“It’s not a coincidence that we chose a circus tent in an open field as our performance environment this season. Beyond the practical considerations of safety, mobility and scale, the circus represents a certain grit, a certain perseverance. At present, artists have been thrown into the most frightening, unexpected eras of their lifetimes. By choosing to perform, while maintaining safety and social distancing, we are saying something about our community: Atlanta needs art, Atlanta needs live performance. This community, these artists are nimble enough, creative enough, gritty enough to find a way.”
The fall productions will be presented in nine performances each, on alternate nights, at Oglethorpe University. In Pagliacci, Leoncavallo’s beloved story of fatal jealousies in a commedia dell’arte troupe, Reginald Smith Jr., “one of the most exciting baritone sounds to come along in years” (Opera News), sings Tonio and Grammy-nominated soprano Talise Trevigne, who recently wowed Atlanta audiences in the title role of Porgy and Bess, sings Nedda. Zvulun’s completely original, socially distanced take on the opera explores whether “the show must go on” in a pandemic, in a meta-commentary on the plight of artists in our time.
The Kaiser of Atlantis takes a darker look at contemporary life through the lens of power and death in a dystopian world. Written in Theresienstadt by composer Viktor Ullmann and librettist Peter Kien, the opera was recognized by the Nazis as a satire on Hitler, and only received its world premiere in 1975, more than three decades after its creators were murdered in Auschwitz. Baritone Michael Mayes, an Atlanta favorite most recently seen headlining Dead Man Walking, stars as Kaiser Overall, with bass Kevin Burdette, heard on the Metropolitan Opera’s Grammy-winning record of The Tempest, as his rival, Death. The luxury casting also features three powerhouse Atlanta Opera talents in smaller roles, with Alek Shrader as Harlequin, Daniela Mack as the drummer and Jasmine Habersham as the girl.
Both operas will be presented in The Atlanta Opera’s new venue, a custom-made tent without walls. Mobile and flexible, with space for up to 240 audience members, the tent is designed to allow fresh air to flow freely at all times while protecting audiences from the elements. Audience members will be seated in physically distanced “Circle Pods,” either in Chair Pods of up to four seats, or in similarly sized Premium Pods that also include a table.
In the interests of health and safety, 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. To help ensure social distancing before and during productions, audiences will have staggered entry times, and there will be no intermissions. Customer interactions will be touchless and audience members will be required to wear masks. These safety protocols and procedures were developed
by The Atlanta Opera’s new Health & Safety Advisory Committee, a team of epidemiologists, public health specialists and doctors assembled to advise the company on protecting the health of cast, musicians, crew members and audiences while attempting a new season’s programming during the pandemic.
As previously announced, in response to the pandemic and the consequent limits on large gatherings, Atlanta’s original 2020-21 season, including the Puccini Festival, has been postponed until 2021-22.
Tickets for the fall cycle go on sale at 10am on September 9 and can be purchased online at atlantaopera.org or by calling 404-881-8885. 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 constraints, availability is limited.
All six productions will be captured digitally with intent to create and share films of the performances with broader audiences. Digital memberships offering all six productions and exclusive behind-the-scenes content will be available for $99 for the year ($50 for current Atlanta Opera subscribers).
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.