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The Atlanta Opera’s 40th Anniversary Season: Innovative New Staging of Salome, Atlanta Premieres of Frida and Glory Denied, and Ambitious Productions of La Cenerentola, Madama Butterfly and Porgy and Bess

Four ambitious mainstage productions anchor The Atlanta Opera’s landmark 40th anniversary season, with the company premieres of acclaimed takes on La Cenerentola and Porgy and Bess, the return of Atlanta’s original staging of Madama Butterfly, and the world premiere presentation of a new production of Salome by Tomer Zvulun, the company’s Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director. Bookending the 2019-20 lineup are the Atlanta premieres of two contemporary American operas – Frida (1991) and Glory Denied (2007) – 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 both 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. As Opera News observes, in “Innovative Risk-Taker,” a dedicated feature article in the magazine’s upcoming October issue, “Zvulun is bringing change to The Atlanta Opera.”

As the Opera News article reports:

“The board of The Atlanta Opera took a leap of faith in 2013, when it hired Tomer Zvulun as its general and artistic director. Although the Israel-born stage director had established a rock-solid reputation in seven years on the Met’s directing staff, as well as through his own productions in Dallas, Seattle, Cincinnati and elsewhere, he had never held an administrative post.”

Yet, the article concludes:

The gamble has paid off. … Under Zvulun, the Atlanta Opera has expanded the range and number of its offerings. … Most significantly, the company has balanced its budget for the past four seasons while significantly increasing its endowment.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, Zvulun himself reflects:

“We are keeping our commitments to our audiences this season. First, we’re staging classic works by Puccini, Rossini and Strauss, but in new and different ways, as part of our commitment to classic opera. Second, we have chosen to stage the Gershwin’s larger-than-life operatic musical, Porgy and Bess, as part of our commitment to bringing new and different audiences in to the world of The Atlanta Opera. Third, we’re producing our largest Discoveries season yet, with the story of the Mexican icon Frida Kahlo. Finally, we’re deepening our commitment to our veterans and active duty service members by closing our Discoveries season with Glory Denied, the story of the longest-held prisoner of war in American history.”

The new season also represents something of a homecoming for four world-class artists, showcasing Atlanta natives Morris Robinson and Jennifer Larmore, University of Georgia graduate Jennifer Holloway, and Atlanta Opera Studio alumnus Santiago Ballerini, besides marking the returns of local favorites Emily Fons, Michael Mayes, Gianluca Terranova, and Catalina Cuervo, and the company debut of Japan’s Yasko Sato.

About the 2019-20 productions

The 2019-20 lineup launches with the Discoveries series Atlanta premiere of Frida (1991) by American composer Robert Xavier Rodríguez, whose honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ Goddard Lieberson Award. A fantastical theater piece set to a blend of tango, zarzuela, ragtime, vaudeville, and 1930s jazz, Frida – hailed as “an exciting, long overdue musical biography” that makes for “raw, wonderfully dangerous theater” (USA Today) – paints a vivid portrait of courageous revolutionary and magical realist Frida Kahlo in her troubled marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. First seen at the Michigan Opera Theatre, where “the best elements of musical theater and opera were on spectacular display” (Opera News), the production stars Colombian-born soprano Catalina Cuervo, reprising the signature title role in which she has consistently proven herself “ideal”; as Opera News writes, “Cuervo’s exuberant voice was a soaring arrow one moment, a bright and cutting knife the next. Her titanic performance encompassed Frida’s fire.” It was the soprano who headlined Atlanta’s sold-out staging of Piazzolla’s tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires, which returned by popular demand for an encore presentation last season. She sings opposite bass-baritone Ricardo Herrera in a reprise of his “dynamic performance” (Detroit Free Press) as Diego Rivera, with soprano Maria Valdes, “a first-rate singing actress” (New York Times), as Cristina Kahlo, the protagonist’s sister. Led by Maria de Buenos Aires’s Jorge Parodi, an Argentinean-born conductor blessed with “the most expressive conducting hands since Stokowski’s” (New York Daily News), the production is by Jose Maria Condemi, Director of Opera and Musical Theatre at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (Oct 5-13).

To inaugurate the mainstage season, The Atlanta Opera presents the company premiere of Joan Font’s iconic treatment of La Cenerentola, Rossini’s beloved bel canto adaptation of the Cinderella story. A co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, Liceu Opera Barcelona and Grand Théâtre de Genève, the Spanish director’s cartoonlike, faux-Rococo staging impressed Opera News as both “adorable” and “enchanting.” For its first Atlanta run, the production stars Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Emily Fons in a reprise of the title role in which, at Opéra De Lille, she proved “a happy revelation, combining a rich and full-bodied timbre with a projection as bold as her agility” (Diapason, France). She sings opposite the Ramiro of Argentinean tenor Santiago Ballerini, who launched his career in the Atlanta Opera Studio program before returning to star in the company’s recent hit production of The Daughter of the Regiment. They will be joined by “superb” bass-baritone Dale Travis (New York Arts) as the wicked stepfather Don Magnifico; baritone Thomas Glass, a Grand Prize winner at the 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, in his house and role debuts as the Prince’s valet, Dandini; and bass-baritone Alan Higgs, an alumnus of both the Atlanta Opera Studio and Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, as the philosopher Alidoro, all under the baton of Dean Williamson, Music Director of the Nashville Opera (Nov 2-10).

Next up at the Cobb Energy Centre is Salome, Richard Strauss’s sublimely heady, Romantic take on Oscar Wilde’s twisted biblical tale of lust, incest, seduction, and power. This world premiere presentation of a new production by Zvulun stars Jennifer Holloway, following the soprano’s triumphs in the title role at Semperoper Dresden, Bilbao Opera, Leipzig Opera, and England’s Opera North, where she gave “an outstanding central performance.” As The Times of London’s review continued:

“She catches all the complexities and conflicts of the Judean princess: at once a petulant spoilt child and a woman who mistakes lust and infatuation for love, weary of being leered at and objectified, and unable to interrogate her own destructive urges. … Holloway’s guttural demands for Jokanaan’s head are pure revenge, sitting as happily in her voice as the floated high notes and ecstatic outpourings.”

Canadian bass-baritone Nathan Berg, the “majestic bass” (Financial Times) heard on the Houston Symphony’s 2018 Grammy-winning Wozzeck recording, undertakes the role of Jochanaan, Salome’s object of desire, with the “consistently thrilling” Dutch tenor Frank van Aken (Bachtrack) as her stepfather, the tetrarch Herod Antipas, and Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano and Atlanta native Jennifer Larmore in her role debut as Salome’s mother, Herodias. Music Director Arthur Fagen, who launched his Atlanta Opera tenure in 2010, leads from the pit (Jan 25–Feb 2).

Continuing its new annual commitment to showcasing great operatic voices in musical theater, The Atlanta Opera presents George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in the company premiere of Francesca Zambello’s celebrated production. Originally created for Washington National Opera, this has since been seen on PBS, on DVD, and at companies including Lyric Opera of Chicago, where the Chicago Tribune not only found it “exuberant,” but praised its success in revealing the work as “an operatic masterpiece.” The first Atlanta performances reunite lyrico-spinto soprano Kristin Lewis with bass Morris Robinson, the star pairing whose portrayal of the same title roles wowed La Scala audiences in 2016, drawing a five-star review in the Financial Times. Italy’s Connessi all’Opera found Lewis’s Bess “sensual and flirtatious, imperious and brilliant, her voice authoritative with a rich, burnished timbre,” while Fermata Spettacolo marveled: “Robinson’s Porgy gives the protagonist great power. His commanding, vibrant voice has imposing body and an almost dark low register that he manages to modulate in line with the expression.” As France’s Anaclase put it, “The title-role couple is really very well sung. Morris Robinson’s bass is a caress in itself, to which Kristin Lewis’s sensuality responds.” The soprano is a two-time Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions finalist who headlined the Met’s Aida last winter, while Atlanta native Robinson, also a familiar face at the Met, stars at the house as Sarastro in The Magic Flute this season. In Atlanta, he shares Gershwin’s leading role with South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana, “an insightful Porgy with an impressive command of the role’s vocal and dramatic demands” (Opera Warhorses). Reginald Smith Jr., who “has one of the most exciting baritone sounds to come along in years” (Opera News), sings Jake, and tenor Jermaine Smith plays Sportin’ Life, as at Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Hollywood Bowl. Lyric soprano Jacqueline Echols, recently seen in the title role of Zambello’s new Washington National Opera production of La traviata, makes her house debut as Clara; Atlanta native Indra Thomas returns as Serena after her previous “triumph in the title role” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) of the company’s Aida; and La’Shelle Allen sings Maria, as at Cincinnati Opera this past summer, all under the leadership of David Charles Abell, Principal Guest Conductor of the Philly Pops (March 7-15).

Back in 2014, Zvulun directed Puccini’s perennially popular Madama Butterfly. Produced with the Castleton Festival, this impressed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “a powerful and attractive new production defined by moments of shimmery, cinematic fantasy mixed with genuine pathos that are pure Puccini all the way through.” To conclude the mainstage season, Zvulun’s staging returns to the Cobb Energy Centre, now showcasing Yasko Sato in the title role. The Japanese soprano has already headlined the opera in cities including Tokyo, Florence, and Seattle, where she showed herself to be “consistently breathtaking” (Oregon Arts-Watch), prompting the Seattle Times to note: “A lyrical singer and an affecting actress, she can convey vivid emotion in a single gesture or expression.” Joining Sato as Pinkerton is Italian tenor Gianluca Terranova, who previously triumphed in the role in Verona and at the Dallas Opera. A firm Atlanta favorite, Terranova has already played the leading men in house productions of Carmen, La bohème and Turandot. Baritone Michael Chioldi reprises his portrayal of Sharpless, as seen at the Washington National Opera and in an Emmy-winning Live From Lincoln Center PBS broadcast, and mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner revisits the role of Suzuki, which she previously sang at Lyric Opera of Chicago and New York City Opera, with Italian Puccini expert Carlo Montanaro on the podium (May 2-10).

The second and final event in the 2019-20 Discoveries series is the Atlanta premiere of Glory Denied (2007) by American composer Tom Cipullo, the winner of a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2013 Sylvia Goldstein Award from Copland House, and the 2013 Arts & Letters Award from the American Academy. Following America’s longest-held prisoner of war as he transitions from the jungles of Southeast Asia to his home in U.S. suburbia, Cipullo’s gut-wrenching story draws on Tom Philpott’s 2001 collection of interviews with returning veterans. Since its 2007 premiere, Glory Denied has received more than 20 productions, besides being issued on a 2014 recording named “Best of the Year” by Opera News. As Opera Today put it, “Cipullo’s masterfully taut adaption … makes a cogent impression in just 75 compact minutes. … Mesmerizing.” Baritone Michael Mayes, star of Atlanta’s recent hit productions of Sweeney Todd and Dead Man Walking, returns as Cipullo’s protagonist, Colonel Jim Thompson. A leading exponent of contemporary opera, Mayes has already headlined Glory Denied at Fort Worth Opera, Nashville Opera, Opera Memphis, and Des Moines Metro Opera, where he “anchored the evening with a star turn that was simply amazing.” Opera Today continued:

“Mr. Mayes not only gifted us with the powerful beauty of his burnished instrument, but he also made my jaw drop with meticulously calculated, wondrously controlled sotto voce effects, including some breathtaking forays above the staff. His complete immersion into the suffering and physical disintegration of his character were as commendable as they were poignant.”

Marking his co-directorial debut, Mayes looks forward not only to revisiting this definitive portrayal, but also to collaborating with director Zvulun on creating The Atlanta Opera’s original new production of the work. Staged at Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center, it is their Discoveries series treatment of Glory Denied that draws the company’s entire 2019-20 season to a gripping close (May 21-24).

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 Atlanta Opera celebrates its 40th anniversary this season. 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 has 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.”

High-resolution promotional photos may be downloaded here.


Atlanta Opera: 2019-20 season

Oct 5, 9, 11 & 13
Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs
Discoveries series
Robert Xavier Rodríguez: Frida (Atlanta premiere)
Conductor: Jorge Parodi
Director: Jose Maria Condemi
Frida: Catalina Cuervo
Diego Rivera: Ricardo Herrera
Cristina Kahlo: Maria Valdes
A Michigan Opera Theatre production 

Nov 2, 5, 8 & 10
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Rossini: La Cenerentola (Atlanta production premiere)
Conductor: Dean Williamson
Director: Joan Font
Angelina: Emily Fons
Ramiro: Santiago Ballerini
Dandini: Thomas Glass
Don Magnifico: Dale Travis
Alidoro: Alan Higgs
A Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, Liceu Opera Barcelona, and Grand Théâtre de Genève co-production 

Jan 25, 28, 31; Feb 2
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Richard Strauss: Salome (new production)
Conductor: Arthur Fagen
Director: Tomer Zvulun
Salome: Jennifer Holloway
Jochanaan: Nathan Berg
Herod Antipas: Frank van Aken
Herodias: Jennifer Larmore

March 7, 8, 10, 13 & 15
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
George and Ira Gershwin: Porgy & Bess (Atlanta production premiere)
Conductor: David Charles Abell
Production director: Francesca Zambello
Porgy: Morris Robinson (March 7, 8 & 10) / Musa Ngqungwana (March 13 & 15)
Bess: Kristin Lewis
Sportin’ Life: Jermaine Smith
Jake: Reginald Smith Jr.
Clara: Jacqueline Echols
Serena: Indra Thomas
Maria: La’Shelle Allen
A Washington National Opera production

May 2, 5, 8 & 10
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Puccini: Madama Butterfly (revival of original Atlanta production)
Conductor: Carlo Montanaro
Director: Tomer Zvulun
Cio-Cio San: Yasko Sato
Pinkerton: Gianluca Terranova
Sharpless: Michael Chioldi
Suzuki: Katharine Goeldner
A co-production with the Castleton Festival

May 21, 22, 23 & 24
Hertz Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center
Discoveries series
Tom Cipullo: Glory Denied (Atlanta premiere)
Director: Tomer Zvulun
Co-director: Michael Mayes
Col. Jim Thompson: Michael Mayes

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© 21C Media Group, September 2019

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