By Pierre Ruhe
For the AJC
The magical chocolate maker Willy Wonka, the demonic sexual predator Don Giovanni and a homicidal bride named Lucia are the stars of the Atlanta Opera’s 2011-2012 season, announced Thursday amid news that the 31-year-old company is starting to edge back from the financial brink.
“We’re making great headway toward stability,” said opera general director Dennis Hanthorn. “Last year’s decision to cut back to three productions [down from four annually] was tough and painful, but it ensures the viability of this organization.”
Still, the opera has never had an endowment and has recently burned through its cash reserves. Donations and ticket sales remain sluggish this season, with a “La Boheme,” in October, falling short of income projections.
“If we have one mistake, it’s over,” Hanthorn said this week. “That’s how close we are. I’m honest about it, I’m being transparent: we need to raise more money.”
Promisingly, for the first time since 2008, the opera expects to end the year with a balanced budget. “We have to be very sure we have the funds coming in before we make any decisions,” Hanthorn continues. “My dad used to tell me ‘measure twice and cut once,’ you know, and I think about that often. It’s tough for every [arts] organization out there, but we’re making it.”
The current season continues at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre with Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (Feb. 26-March 6) and Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” (April 9-17).
That mixture of violence, love, humor, pathology and sublime singing continues next season. The season consists of three productions, each performed four times.
The 2011-12 season begins November 12 with Donizetti’s opulent bel canto masterpiece “Lucia di Lammermoor,” where the heroine is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love and flees the nuptial bed with a bloody wedding dress. Her celebrated mad scene, just a soprano and flute in kaleidoscopic harmony, depicts a psyche damaged beyond repair. The company last performed “Lucia” in 2000.
Coloratura soprano Georgia Jarman, who sang a sparkling Musetta with the Atlanta Symphony a few years ago, makes her Atlanta Opera debut in the title role. Tenor Jonathan Boyd sings the good guy lover and Stephen Powell sings the bad guy brother. They, too, are making company debuts. Tomer Zvulun, a frequent stage director with the company, returns to produce this “Lucia.”
The season ends with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” — running April 28 – May 6, 2012 — another dark tale of a twisted psyche, last performed here in 2005. A Spanish nobleman, he’s a full-time seducer,
wooing women with song and then not taking “no” for an answer. His catalog of conquests, when the opera opens, stands at 1,003.
Except for light tenor Nicholas Phan, as Don Ottavio, most of the cast is making company debuts and are unknown in these parts: Andrea Concetti as the wicked Giovanni, Eduardo Chama as his sidekick Leporello, Andrew Kroes as the stone-guest Commendatore, Lori Guilbeau as Anna, Maria Luigia Borsi as Elvira and Angela Kloc as Zerlina. Arthur Fagen will return to conduct both the Donizetti and the Mozart.
Likely the most talked-about production will be a recent work, “The Golden Ticket,” running March 3 – 11, 2012.Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the groovy ‘70s Gene Wilder movie, the opera was helped along by the author’s widow, Felicity Dahl. It premiered at Opera Theater of St. Louis in the summer of 2010. The music is tuneful and, according to critics, masterfully constructed.
Members of the original cast, led by Daniel Okulitch as Willy Wonka, will reprise the roles in Atlanta. The composer, Peter Ash, will conduct a revival of the St. Louis production.
Hanthorn sees “The Golden Ticket” as a family opera to recruit new fans. “The name recognition for audiences that don’t know opera is huge,” he said. “People over 40 read the book, people in their 30s and younger saw the movie. I’m trying to select repertoire that will get people excited about opera.”
Pierre Ruhe is classical music critic of www.ArtsCriticATL.com