Under the direction of Tomer Zvulun, The Atlanta Opera has transformed into an ambitious company with a reputation for staging fresh productions of classics coupled with cutting-edge operas that push boundaries and definitions.
Those paths converge next season when the opera will produce Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the first part of the composer’s epic and legendary “Ring” cycle. Many believe the cycle of four operas to be the greatest musical accomplishment in history. Its size and complexity and cost combine to make it a huge challenge for any opera company with the courage to take it on. It has never been produced in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Opera will not only stage an original production of Das Rheingold as the highlight of the 2020–21 season, it will take on the second part, Die Walküre, the following year. If this sounds like an opera company with grand aspirations, it’s because Zvulun has worked to put The Atlanta Opera on the national and international map since his arrival in 2013.
“This is the season of all seasons,” says Zvulun, the opera’s general and artistic director. “It’s my eighth season and the company’s 41st anniversary. In many ways, the company has arrived. This season is the arrival.”
The opera announced its upcoming season today, with four main stage shows at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and two Discoveries Series shows at smaller, more intimate venues.
“This season exemplifies our strategy and crystallizes our vision,” Zvulun says. “It makes us a world-class opera company for this world-class city. We’re not shy about it. This will be a helluva season.”
The production of the first part of the “Ring” cycle is a landmark for the company, and a beacon of Zvulun’s ambitions. When he arrived, the opera had a $5 million annual operating budget for three productions and 12 performances. Zvulun says the annual budget has doubled, as have the number of productions, and fundraising has tripled. The company also reached a five-year labor agreement with its orchestra in September.
The 2020–21 season will open November 7 at Cobb Energy Centre with a restaging of the popular La Bohème, last performed here in 2015. Zvulun will direct the show, which will feature the U.S. debut of soprano Jessica Nuccio.
After that will be another fresh take on a classic, The Barber of Seville, at Cobb Energy Centre beginning January 23, 2021. That show will feature tenor Santiago Ballerini (featured in this season’s Cinderella), mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella and baritone Theo Hoffman.
Next up will be a Discoveries Series performance of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs February 11–14, 2021, a coproduction with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Austin Opera at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts. “It’s a fascinating production about Steve Jobs’ life story and his struggles with mortality,” says Zvulun. “It premiered in Santa Fe in 2017, and this will be the first production since that premiere.”
The show also begins a new partnership with Georgia Tech, and plans call for a future production about artificial intelligence.
A new operatic version of The Sound of Music, in partnership with the Glimmerglass Festival and the Houston Grand Opera, will be staged March 6, 2021, at Cobb Energy Centre.
Later that month, the opera will stage As One at Out Front Theatre as part of the Discoveries Series. It is an acclaimed chamber opera about a transgender woman’s journey of self-discovery. “As One is a powerful and interesting story,” says Zvulun. “It’s one of the most popular operas of the last 10 years; it’s been produced in 40 locations.”
And finally, closing the season that May, will be the original production of Das Rheingold, directed by Zvulun. It features a cast that includes tenor Richard Cox, soprano Melody Moore, bass-baritone Nathan Berg and mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak. “It will be a challenge for every department of The Atlanta Opera,” says Zvulun. “It’s the Mount Everest of the operatic canon.”
When Wagner finished the “Ring” cycle in 1874, it called for an orchestra too large to fit into any existing pits and an opera house was built specifically for the piece. The king who built it became the first monarch in history to declare bankruptcy. That legacy has continued in modern times. The Scottish Opera and Los Angeles Opera each struggled from the weight of production costs. A recent Metropolitan Opera production of the cycle cost $16 million to produce.
The Atlanta Opera will take a more measured approach, producing the first installment in 2021 and the second in the 2021–22 season.
Zvulun stopped short of saying the company will ultimately stage all four operas from the 15-hour “Ring” cycle. “We’re planning to do the first two installments and then have to see how it goes,” he says. “Very few companies produce this show. Wagner forces us to excel, from fundraising to production to our singers.”