The Atlanta Opera will expand from four to five productions for its 2015-16 season, as general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun attempts to strike a balance between the comfortably familiar and intriguingly challenging.
Complementing three large-scale productions at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the company is launching a two-opera Discovery Series at locations still to be announced. It’s part of Zvulun’s strategy to rebuild and refashion the opera and extend its footprint across more months on the cultural calendar and to cover a greater swath of the metro area.
The 2015-16 lineup, being announced Tuesday exclusively in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, will center around the mainstage season at Cobb Energy of Puccini’s “La Boheme” (October), Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” (March 2016) and Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” (May 2016).
It will be complemented by a “lost gem,” Schubert’s “Winterreise” (September), and the Southeastern premiere of David T. Little’s “Soldier Songs” (November). Exact dates and sites for these Discovery Series programs will be announced shortly.
The season’s slogan will be “The Atlanta Opera: Join the Adventure,” an allusion to the different lands and cultures the five productions will explore, but the intended meaning is greater than that.
“We’re taking the company on a journey, and we want people to come along and be a part of it,” marketing and communications director David Paule said, “not just along for the ride but to be part of the evolution we’re on.”
The opera’s journey was one of contraction at the beginning of the decade, when tightening budgets required Zvulun’s predecessor Dennis Hanthorn to cut the season from four productions at Cobb Energy to three and, with some pressure from his board, to make safer programming choices.
In the two seasons he’s programmed since arriving in June 2013, Zvulun has attempted to update what he refers to as “tried-and-true masterpieces” by adding visual elements such as multimedia projections. He’s also mixed in less familiar choices, such as the current season’s closer, “Three Decembers,” a chamber opera by Jake Heggie that will be given its Southeastern premiere in May at the Alliance Theatre.
“These appetizers help us with the main course diet,” Zvulun told the AJC in an exclusive interview, “because if we only eat Viennese schnitzel, it’s going to get boring very fast.”
The 2013-14 season he inherited when he took charge in June 2013, booked by a interim committee after Hanthorn’s departure, evoked that response, Zvulun acknowledges.
“We did ‘Tosca,’ ‘Faust’ and ‘Barber of Seville,’ and you get people who are yawning, ‘OK, we’ve seen that, we’ve done that. Now, what else?’” said Zvulun, now 38, who was appointed to Atlanta’s top job based on his directing work at major U.S. and international opera houses.
While he’s pleased to help audiences discover or rediscover “Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”), Schubert’s song cycle of unrequited love, the “what else” Zvulun is clearly most excited about is “Soldier Songs” by Opera Philadelphia composer-in-residence Little. Expected to open around Veterans Day, the 2006 evening-length work combines elements of theater, opera, rock-infused music and animation.
“It’s a very theatrical and visual experience,” Zvulun said of the piece, based on recorded interviews with veterans of five wars.
“It strikes a very strong chord in me because I spent three years in the Israeli army,” the former medic added. “It’s something that’s very important for me to tell as a storyteller.”
In addition to “Soldier Songs,” Zvulun will stage direct “La Boheme” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
Notable singing talent engaged for 2015-16 includes: Soprano Nicole Cabell, recently returned from a run of “La Boheme” in Paris, will portray Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” performing opposite Jesus Leon, a Mexican tenor popular in Europe who will make his American debut here. Comic ace Kevin Burdette, a bass, will play the Pirate King in “Penzance.” And baritone Matthew Worth, now rehearsing for Minnesota Opera’s world premiere of “The Manchurian Candidate,” will sing in “Soldier Songs.”
ATLANTA OPERA’S 2015-16 SEASON
September: Schubert’s “Winterreise” at a site to be announced.
Oct. 3, 6, 9, 11: Puccini’s “La Boheme” at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
November: David T. Little’s “Soldier Songs” at a site to be announced.
March 5, 8, 11, 13, 2016: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” at Cobb Energy.
May 7, 10, 13, 15, 2016: Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” at Cobb Energy.
Season subscriptions are available at www.atlantaopera.org. Single tickets will be available in August.