August 9, 2018

For The Atlanta Opera, the 2017-18 season represents a bona fide triumph. Now riding a wave of extraordinary creative and economic resurgence, the company has just enjoyed its highest ticket sales since 2009, with a seven-opera lineup highlighted by two major new mainstage productions and a momentous world premiere in the award-winning Discoveries series.  Ending the fiscal year in the black for the third consecutive season, the company saw its revenue increase by 26%, with the number of seats sold up by 19%, seats sold in the Discoveries series up by 57%, and new single ticket buyers by 71%, as well as substantial endowment growth. Likewise, in audience development, the number of performances increased by 36% and of schools served by 30%. These remarkable gains result primarily from innovations introduced by General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun to increase artistic risks while reducing financial ones. Small wonder that The Atlanta Opera was featured in a recent Harvard Business School case study, or that Zvulun was invited to give a TEDx/Emory talk on “The Ambidextrous Opera Company, or Opera in the Age of iPhones.” To see Zvulun’s TEDx/Emory talk, click here.

About the 2017-18 productions

Mounting new and unusual work in alternative city venues, The Atlanta Opera’s Discoveries series has been recognized with a 2015 “Best of Atlanta” award from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a 2016 International Opera Award nomination. It was the first of two new additions to the series that launched the 2017-18 season: Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, starring Grammy Award-winner – and Atlanta native – Jennifer Larmore. Finding her voice “as fresh as ever,” Opera News observed: “Seven Deadly Sins requires an artist who can pull off the text-driven drama and strange scenario; Larmore accomplished both.” Similarly, Brian Clowdus’s “tight, effective production” (Arts ATL) succeeded in creating a “hallucinatory, immersive world” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) in the intimate night-club ambiance of midtown Atlanta’s Lé Maison Rouge at Paris on Ponce. All four scheduled performances played to full houses, and even when four more were added, they played to 90% capacity too.

The season’s first mainstage presentation was Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, with Wayne Tigges, Melody Moore, and Jay Hunter Morris heading an all-star cast in the premiere of a new staging by Zvulun, also an internationally recognized stage director whose take on Silent Night was just hailed as “brilliant” (New York Times) at the 2018 Glimmerglass Festival. A co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Cincinnati Opera, this boasted state-of-the-art projections and all-new costumes and set design, offering “a sleek, modern, nuanced take on the classic story” in which the “inventive visual elements vividly [brought] to life a contemporary vision of Wagner’s mythical story, and the composer’s lush sound world shimmer[ed] with cosmic, meditative angst (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). As Opera News marveled: “If last night’s performance is an indication of things to come, Atlanta may have an opera company that is in the midst of its own redemption.”

Next followed Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, marking the directorial debut of E. Loren Meeker. This mainstage production featured Andriana Chuchman in her “pitch-perfect” house debut (Opera News), 2016-17 Atlanta Opera Studio artist Santiago Ballerini, and Stephanie Blythe, whose role debut as the Marquise of Berkenfeld prompted the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to note: “Blythe gives a star performance. … Her voice sounds lovely and intriguing from top to bottom, rich and lustrous on low notes, clear and robust on high notes. It can’t be effortless, but she certainly makes it look that way.” As Schmopera concluded, the production was “a bel canto winner.”

World premiere production of Out of Darkness: Two Remain at the Atlanta Opera (photo: Jeff Roffman)

For the season’s second Discoveries series offering, The Atlanta Opera presented the world premiere production of Out of Darkness: Two Remain. This heartbreaking and thought-provoking story of two Holocaust survivors – a Polish dissident and a gay German Jew – came from the unstoppable team of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, who attended the opening-night performance. Staged in Theatrical Outfit’s Balzer Theatre at Herren’s in Downtown Atlanta, the production was directed by Zvulun and starred Tom Key, Artistic Director of Theatrical Outfit, with choreography by John McFall, former artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet. Drawing on local talent across multiple art forms, it represented a triumph of interdisciplinary collaboration. The critical response was overwhelming. The premiere was hailed as “a brilliant, haunting watershed for The Atlanta Opera” (Arts ATL). “This piece is perfect for its time – it is completely relevant to the world that we live in today,” declared Schmopera. “It does something unusual for 21st-century opera: it risks being remembered by the audience,” agreed EarRelevant. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pronounced Zvulun’s “devastatingly powerful new production … a high benchmark for the company, representing fantastic new engagement with important, groundbreaking contemporary work.” Arts ATL elaborated:

“This production is not always easy to watch; it is deeply emotional and deeply moving. It lingers with you long after the performance. And for me, those are hallmarks of great art. I have to give strong props to Tomer Zvulun, the Atlanta Opera’s artistic director, for staging a production as impactful and provocative as this, and also for the care he brought to it in his direction. This is a vastly different Atlanta Opera under his charge, and I love his sense of daring. … A production this good makes me eager to see what’s coming next.

Marking the company’s highest-grossing production in eleven years, the season’s penultimate event was a new treatment of Bizet’s Carmen. Created by Atlanta Opera Studio stage director Brenna Corner in her mainstage debut, this was headlined by Franco-Armenian mezzo Varduhi Abrahamyan, who, in her U.S. and house debuts, lent her “smoldering, velvety yet agile voice” (Arts ATL) to the title role. Thanks to Corner’s “effective emphasis on dramatic storytelling” the “successful production [made] it clear why Carmen has remained such an enduring classic” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Moreover “the orchestra, together with the fine singing, offered up that special dimension that makes opera something far more than theater accompanied by music” (Arts ATL).

To conclude the 2017-18 season, The Atlanta Opera mounted its first big Broadway musical: a mainstage production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This proved such an audience success that an additional performance was added to accommodate demand, and critics were similarly impressed. Michael Mayes, making his company debut in the title role, won praise for his “commanding voice and stage presence” (ArtsATL), while Albert Sherman’s production proved “a superlative razor-sharp endeavor … like fine Swiss clockwork, with all of the elements working in sync to create a compelling, engaging whole from concept to performance” (ArtsATL). As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution affirmed, it made “an unforgettable conclusion to the Atlanta Opera season.”

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 its General and 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 Opera Award in London in 2016. The Discoveries series has grown from three to 16 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 opera 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.

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© 21C Media Group, August 2018