Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Tomer Zvulun

December 28, 2021 | By Zachary Lewis

General & Artistic Director
Atlanta Opera

Taking his inspiration from the book by Nassim Taleb, Black Swan, which posits that, during unpredictable events, history advances in leaps, not steps, Tomer Zvulun made a series of bold decisions with what he now realizes was very little information. After cancelling its season, the Atlanta Opera’s general and artistic director started thinking outside the box, literally. Where could the company perform outside its home base at the suburban Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center?

In what can best be described as a true leap, Zvulun and his staff came up with the idea of a giant circus tent, a vast open-air space that would allow the company to perform for both live and virtual audiences. Working with epidemiologists and other health experts, staff members developed an intensive safety protocol manual, which called not only for strict cleaning but also for assigned hall entry times, designated artist zones, virtual coaching, and outdoor rehearsals. Patrons would sit in socially distanced pods no less than 12 feet from the stage, while an orchestra would be in a separate tent, accompanying the performance remotely.

There were challenges. Strong winds toppled the tent, and all too often, bugs and loud trains were part of the show. The hassles were beyond count. Still, the Big Top, along with virtual projects on the company’s new Spotlight Media platform, kept some 300 crew members, artists, and staff employed. Working together under these conditions “created a camaraderie and sense of pride in every level of the company,” Zvulun said. “A new ethos was formed. One of grit and perseverance.”

The effort was also worthwhile artistically. During the pandemic, Atlanta Opera managed to develop four new productions and present 40 performances, which together reached some 5,000 live audience members, 35,000 remote students, and untold thousands of viewers online. At the same time, creating a film studio for Spotlight Media had moved a pre-pandemic plan for a virtual presence to the fast track.

Looking back, Zvulun said he’s glad he took leaps, not steps, despite all the unforeseen challenges. Atlanta Opera, he says, has come back “stronger in the places [where] we were broken. This company [now] feels like it can tackle any challenge and overcome any obstacle.”




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