Now 40, the Atlanta Opera continues redefining its audience by mixing old and new

The opera enters its fourth act

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Atlanta Opera 40th anniversary
Adam Diegel and Dina Kuznetsova in the Atlanta Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly

Photograph by Jeff Roffman

After four decades of arias and curtain calls, the Atlanta Opera finds itself comfortably between two worlds: classic and contemporary. Mixing old and new is a strategy of General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, who says he’s inspired by Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock films as much as he is Steven Spielberg.

“Coming up with the season is like preparing a meal for guests, and one of the recipes for a great meal is different flavors—some spicy, some sweet, some traditional, some experimental,” Zvulun says. “There’s a great variety in it: classical operas, musical theatre, operas that reach out beyond the main venue.”

During Zvulun’s seven-year tenure, the Opera has doubled productions from three to six, and this 40th anniversary season (October 5–May 24) follows its highest-grossing in a decade. Some of that success, he says, can be attributed to the mix of titles the performers and orchestras bring to life.

“Every year, we’re trying not only to do famous operas like Cinderella or Salome, but we’re also trying to program one crossover piece, like Porgy & Bess or West Side Story or Sweeney Todd,” Zvulun says. Patrons have many options for entertainment, and the Atlanta Opera hopes it can start conversations and surprise audiences.

The season is bookended by productions from the Discoveries series, launched five years ago, which brings the Opera to alternate venues and offers the chance to perform lesser-known works. It opens with the Michigan Opera Theatre’s chamber production of the Frida Kahlo–inspired Frida—whose performance at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center marks the first time the Atlanta Opera has presented in the North Fulton suburb—and closes at Alliance Theatre with Glory Denied, a production based on the troubled life of America’s longest-held prisoner of war, Colonel Jim Thompson.

Rounding out the casts is local talent. January’s Salome will feature UGA alumna Jennifer Holloway as the titular lead in the famously complex show, and Grammy-winner and East Cobb native Jennifer Larmore as Herodias. Playing the part of Porgy on March 7 and 10 is Morris Robinson, who grew up in southwest Atlanta and went on from the Atlanta Boys Choir to play football at the Citadel before becoming a world-renowned bass.

“Our mission is tied into Atlanta, and our strategic plan sets up the vision of the opera in two simple words: reimagining opera,” Zvulun says of the model. “We’re reimagining the way we are presenting classic operas, we’re reimagining the business model, and we’re reimagining our audience.”

See the entire 2019–2020 season lineup at atlantaopera.org.

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

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