Industry News

Latest Invention from Necessity: Opera in the Big Top

September 2, 2020 | By Susan Elliott, Musical America

The old adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” can surely be applied to the way performing arts groups are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. From drive-in theaters to baseball fields to church courtyards to made-for-digital opera shorts, there seem to be no end to the amount of creativity and ingenuity on display.

The latest comes from the Atlanta Opera, which will erect an open-sided circus tent on a stadium field at nearby Oglethorpe University, where the first of six productions in this season’s “Big Tent” series will run from October Oct. 22 to November 14. First up are Leoncavallo’s well-worn classic Pagliacci, in repertoire  with Viktor Ullmann’s The Kaiser of Atlantis, a satire on Adolf Hitler, written when Ulmman and librettist Peter Kien were imprisoned at Theresienstadt during World War II.

The two will alternate nights for a total of 18 performances, nine each, before an audience of no more than 240—the tent’s capacity--arranged in pods.

Catalyst for change

“This pandemic has devastated so many lives and businesses,” said Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun. “But it has also been a major catalyst in accelerating our shift to a business model that we have been discussing for years: creating a company of players, performing in non-traditional spaces and developing our video and streaming capabilities.”

The casts include the newly formed Atlanta Opera Company Players, all of whom live in the area and have been contracted for the entire 2020-21 season. The remaining four productions for spring will be announced at a later date. The planned 2020-21 season has been postponed to 2021-22.

Baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. leads the Pagliacci cast as Tonio, with Talise Trevigne as Nedda; baritone Michael Mayes and bass Kevin Burdette head the Atlantis cast. In addition to the live performances, both operas will be directed for film for later online viewing.

The tent has no walls, according to Atlanta Opera, and seating is in pods--premium pods include four seats and a table while Chair Pods include four seats.

“It’s not a coincidence that we chose a circus tent in an open field as our performance environment this season,” Zvulun said. “Beyond the practical reasons of safety, mobility, and scale, the circus represents a certain grit, a certain perseverance. At present, artists have been thrown into the most frightening, unexpected eras in our lifetime and by choosing to perform, while maintaining safety and social distancing, we are saying something about our community: Atlanta needs art, Atlanta needs live performance. This community, these artists are nimble enough, creative enough, gritty enough to find a way.”

Each of the productions uses fewer than eight singers and reduced orchestrations for up to 12 players. Entry times will be staggered and masks required for the duration of the performance.




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