November 19, 2020

Scenes from the “Big Tent” series (photos courtesy of The Atlanta Opera)

Next month marks the launch of Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media. Already available for pre-order, this digital subscription service will give home audiences around the world long-term access to exclusive new video content from The Atlanta Opera. Each month, the company will roll out a substantial new streaming bundle, combining concerts, special recordings, and behind-the-scenes footage with original opera productions captured live in the company’s innovative “Big Tent” series, which has been hailed as “a completely transformed vision for the 2020-21 season” (Broadway World). Funded with support from a $500,000 gift from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, the new subscription service is the latest initiative from Atlanta’s Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, the only representative of an American opera house invited to speak at the upcoming Opera Europa conference on COVID-19 and the arts. As PBS Newshour remarked in a recent television segment on the “Big Tent” series, “In Atlanta, in new forms and spaces, the show goes on.”

The Atlanta Opera’s response to the pandemic has been exceptionally deft from the first. Under Zvulun’s galvanizing leadership, the company was quick to turn its costume shop over to making hospital PPE and to create personalized “Singing Telegrams” for frontline healthcare workers and others in need of emotional support. However, it was with his plans for the 2020-21 season that Zvulun proved himself one of the top ten “musical heroes of this COVID summer,” whose “creative ingenuitykept the music live and connected” (Slipped Disc). Following strict safety protocols developed by the epidemiologists, public health specialists and doctors of the company’s new Health & Safety Advisory Committee, Atlanta’s “Big Tent” series presents new live chamber opera productions in a custom-made tent without walls. “What the Atlanta Opera has tapped into with this venture is remarkable” observes Arts ATL. By placing the company “at the forefront of devising ingenious means to re-engage artists and audiences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic” (EarRelevant), the Big Tent series is “showing that opera is alive and well in Georgia’s capital” (Broadway World). All directed by Zvulun himself, the series’ new productions showcase the Atlanta Opera Company Players: twelve handpicked, world-class singers who live in the Atlanta region and have been hired for the season’s duration. The singers undergo weekly COVID-19 tests and, after the first seven weeks of rehearsals and performances, they are all still virus-free, indicating that even in the pandemic’s current second wave, the stringent protocols of the Advisory Committee continue to prevail. As Opera Europa director Nicholas Payne put it, The Atlanta Opera has shown “exemplary resilience, which can inspire others.”

Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media

Each subscription to the Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media will grant unlimited access to the company’s gated content for a full year. Priced at $99 a year per viewing household, the service launches next month with a generous December streaming package, highlighted by Pagliacci and The Kaiser of Atlantis, the first two productions in the “Big Tent” series. Captured in a custom-designed open-air tent on a baseball field at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University, both films place the audience on stage among the singers.

Sharing, in Zvulun’s vision, the same topical setting – a traveling circus caught in a dystopian world during a pandemic – the two productions were both widely celebrated in live performance. Opera News praised the “world-class singers” of Pagliacci, Leoncavallo’s story of fatal jealousies in a commedia dell’arte troupe, 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.”

Zvulun’s company premiere of The Kaiser of Atlantis, a chilling satire on Hitler by eventual Auschwitz victims Viktor Ullmann and Peter Kien, drew similar praise. “This was avant-garde theater done well,” affirmed 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). Parterre Box declared the production:

“A miracle of miracles – a sensitive reading of a highly relevant chamber opera, performed by an extremely motivated group of performers, supported by highly dedicated staff and crews, and adhering to the highest level of health and safety precautions.”

As EarRelevant counseled: “Thanks are due. Go see this production of The Kaiser of Atlantis if you possibly can.”

Also included in December’s Spotlight Productions package are two Big Tent Concerts, filmed live this fall. Both featuring members of The Atlanta Opera Company Players, “Mack the Knife: An Evening of Kurt Weill” presents Lotte Lenya Competition-winners Jasmine Habersham, Megan Marino and Brian Vu in selected songs and operatic excerpts by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and “Mezzo Extravaganza” celebrates the superlative voices of mezzo-sopranos Gabrielle Beteag, Daniela Mack, Megan Marino and Jamie Barton, BBC Music’s “2020 Personality of the Year.”

In addition to exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, the December bundle offers the first in a series of “Love Letters to Atlanta,” through which individual members of the Company Players will celebrate the people, places and history of the Georgian capital through songs that mean something to them personally. Upcoming releases will include Jamie Barton’s take on “Georgia on My Mind”; the initial December offering features bass Morris Robinson’s performance of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha at the Fox Theatre and Kevin Burdette singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot at Atlanta’s Civic Center Auditorium, together with a special extended interview.

Highlighting January’s digital offerings is Orfano Mondo. Directed by Company Player Ryan McKinny, who is not only a bass-baritone but also a filmmaker, this new art film will combine footage from both Pagliacci and The Kaiser of Atlantis in an exploration of the life of an artist. The Atlanta Opera’s spring additions to the “Big Tent” series – Bizet’s Carmen and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera – will both be filmed for inclusion in subsequent digital packages. Click here to sample the Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media’s offerings.

Nov 20: Zvulun at Opera Europa conference

Founded in 1995, Opera Europa is the leading service organization for Europe’s professional opera companies and festivals, currently serving more than 200 members in 43 countries. Coming together to discuss such topics as “Leadership during crisis” and “The evolution of opera’s operating model,” a host of European opera’s prime movers will come together virtually for the nonprofit’s upcoming conference, “Survival of the Fittest,” on November 18-20. Bringing The Atlanta Opera into the international conversation, Tomer Zvulun – the sole representative of an American opera house invited to participate – looks forward to presenting a paper on “Adapting programmes to current measures and restrictions” (Nov 20). For more information, click 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.

To download high-resolution photos, click here.

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© 21C Media Group, November 2020