Friday, April 24, 2015

We're excited to bring Three Decembers, an opera by American composer Jake Heggie, to Atlanta this May. 

The contemporary opera (set in the late 20th century) will launch the Discoveries series - dedicated to audience members looking for new operatic works, new ideas, and fresh perspectives.

Three Decembers, first performed at the Houston Grand Opera in 2008, is a chamber opera based on a short story by Terrance McNally. The production will be conducted by Steven Osgood and directed by Emma Griffin with scenic design by Laura Jellinek; all three are making their Atlanta Opera debuts. Costume Design is by Joanna Schmink and Lighting Design is by Ken Yunker. Both are Atlanta-based designers.

Taking place during three Decembers over the course of three decades (1986, 1996, 2006), the story hinges on evolving family relationships, mounting tensions, and deep secrets that lie between a mother and her adult daughter and son.

The opera spans a period of 20 years, opening in 1986 with the children reading their Christmas cards from their mother. Christmas of 1996 reveals the death of Charlie’s partner, Beatrice’s disintegrating marriage, and the truth behind their father’s death. The third December, set in 2006, finds the children eulogizing Maddy and reflecting on the tapestry of lies that has been exposed.

Jake Heggie is a Guggenheim Fellow and composer of acclaimed operas Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick, The End of the Affair and the upcoming Great Scott. His work has been produced on five continents and recorded for Atlantic Records and Virgin Classics. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, Curt Branom.

Librettist Gene Scheer frequently collaborates with Heggie, including their productions of Moby Dick and To Hell and Back. His operas have been performed at Houston Grand Opera, the Dallas Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera. Documentarian Ken Burns featured Scheer’s song “American Anthem” (sung by Norah Jones) in his Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary, The War. Scheer’s work on the oratorio for August 4, 1964 earned him a Grammy nomination.

Three Decembers will be presented on May 29, 30 and 31 at the Alliance Theatre. Single tickets are currently available for $35, plus convenience and venue fees, and can be purchased online at or by calling 404-881-8885. The opera will be performed in English. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

High School Opera Institute

The Atlanta Opera and Emory University are pleased to offer High School Opera Institute, a one-week intensive study program on the Emory campus, designed for rising 10th-12th grade singers. 

Classes include:
• Individual and group vocal coaching; diction
• Yoga and stretching; movement and characterization
• Audition techniques; vocal health
• Resume writing; college and career discussion sessions.

Using the audition process as a focus, students receive feedback throughout the week, which culminates in a final mock audition, presented in front of parents and invited guests. Young singers come away with improved vocal technique, better understanding of the audition process, and increased confidence in an audition or interview situation.

• Applications can be downloaded by clicking here

• Deadline to apply is Friday, March 27
• Please email resume, application (and headshot if available) to
• Selected applicants will be invited to audition by Wednesday, April 1
• Auditions will be Saturday, April 11 and Monday, April 13
• Participation fee: $500.00

For more information or to apply, email Wade Thomas at


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pick Up Your Q: Stage Director Tara Faircloth

You’re a Georgia native. What is it like to direct a show so close to home?

To be perfectly honest, I've been so focused on staging the show, I've hardly taken a moment to soak it all in!  However, it has been quite a few years since I've been on the East Coast in the spring, and I had forgotten how perfectly breathtaking it is when everything starts blooming.  This is such a gorgeous city... it is a real pleasure to be back in my native land.

In recent years, you've worked as an assistant director in several major opera houses. What have you learned as an AD that you've applied as a stage director?

The job of a big house AD is very intense and requires a very long list of skills that you might not use as often when you are in the director chair, most having to do with organization and large scale communication. As an AD I've developed a strong appreciation for the many technicians and production staff that make the “magic” happen behind the scenes. I've also gotten a lot of experience working with huge choruses, and have really learned to love how a chorus can help bring the stage to life and amplify the story. 

What are some of your favorite moments, musically or theatrically, in The Marriage of Figaro?   
Where to begin?! Well, maybe at the beginning... when the curtain rises we meet Figaro and Susanna, busily preparing for their wedding day.  I just love the hustle and bustle, the playfulness and charm of these adorable people who are so clearly in love. Another favorite moment is  the Figaro/Susanna duet in the finale of Act 4. There is a huge amount of physical comedy in that section, and it ends when Figaro brings it all to a halt with a big kiss. The two end up giggling on floor together.  Musically and dramatically it is really satisfying.

What is the most complicated scene to direct in this opera?

This entire opera feels like a three-ring circus from start to finish, with only small pause for breath during the Countess's arias and Susanna's Act 4 aria. The rest of the time it is non-stop action. A household run by Figaro and Susanna would be nothing less! Probably the most physically (and mentally?) demanding scene is the finale of Act 4. There is an awful lot of back and forth, with ladies in disguise, wrong exits, and intense wooing in the dark. Keeping up with it all is a real trick!

This show has several strong female characters. What’s your take on their relationships and their world?

I love the women of Nozze. They are smart and strong, and when they get hurt, they shed a tear and then they pick themselves back up again. In another opera, the Countess would probably go lose her mind when faced with her husband's infidelities. We would end with a mad scene and suicide. Not our Countess!  She calls up the smartest lady she knows (Susanna) and makes a plan.

What advice would you give to an audience member enjoying The Marriage of Figaro for the first time?    

Fasten your seatbelt! This is an opera that is filled to the brim with gorgeous and amusing tunes, and they are sung by genuine, fully-developed characters experiencing all the many aspects of love. Please laugh, but also allow yourself to feel the pain of the Countess when she realizes she no longer holds interest for her husband, or the jealousy and heartache of Figaro when he discovers he has been laughing at his own expense. Relish how generously Mozart expends his beautiful music... even the most ludicrous moments are exquisitely beautiful, because he has tunes to spare. This is an amazing cast, and I think it will be quite clear why this is one of the most beloved operas of all time. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pick Up Your Q: Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel

Did you grow up going to the theatre? 

No, not really. I grew up on the far end of Staten Island during the 1960's and early 1970's. I remember thinking at the time that NYC was very far away. My parents were not the theatre-going type. In fact, I remember only one experience. It was during one of the holiday seasons. My parents took us to see the Radio City Christmas show (I believe I was 7, 8 years old at the time), and that experience really affected me. It was eye-opening in every sense of the word! 

Do you remember the moment that captured your interest in theatre and design? Was there a particular designer that you admired or who influenced you?

Yes, I remember a distinct moment. In 1972, when I was 16 years old, my family moved to Florida,to a very small town called New Port Richey. The town is located on the west coast of Florida, north of the town of Tarpon Springs. It is a shoreline community, with lots of sun and beach culture. This was a time of major migration to the south from the northern states, and my high school was overcrowded. One day I remember coming home from school to make lunch, I turned on our small, black & white television as background noise. The only station we received was the local PBS station and (I believe) "Dance in America" was on. Valery and Galina Panov, the Russian dance couple, were in concert. The announcer stated that they would be performing the grande pas de deux from "The Nutcracker." Well, for me, I had no idea what a pas de deux was. In fact, I did not know what "The Nutcracker" was either. However, I just continued to make my lunch. Then this beautiful music began. They started to dance; it began to pull my focus. I had never seen or experienced such striking physicality, strength and artistry. It was completely outside my frame of reference. I found myself transfixed. I stopped making my lunch and just focused on this small image on the TV. As the duet ended, it literally took my breath away. I remember standing there dazed, and somehow, I thought, "Whatever that is, that's what I want to do." I see that experience as the moment I decided to become a theatre artist and designer. 

What was your first assignment as a lighting designer? 

Well, I'm not sure I remember the first show! I did become part of a wonderful community theater in New Port Richey--The Richey Suncoast Theatre--where I had my introduction to what "the Theatre" was, and specifically lighting. I did many musicals and comedies. I became (at 17 years of age) the "lighting guy" at the theatre. However, during this time I thought I wanted to be a dancer. 

You've collaborated with Bill T. Jones and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for 30 years. How did this relationship begin?

I first met Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane in 1985. As the company was growing, touring more, etc., they were looking for a lighting designer. I was recommended to them. I had a meeting with them. A few days later, I was asked to light a new piece called "Black Room." I have the pleasure, joy and satisfaction the continue working with Bill and the BTJ/AZ Dance Company to this day. 

Is there a significant difference between designing the lighting for dance and designing it for opera?

Yes and no. Both forms use music as a major part of the structure. Music and movement are non-verbal forms of communication. I feel that light is also a non-verbal form. Light can add, enhance, clarify or transform a moment that can have profound emotional and psychological impact. However, with light, one needs context to fully express an idea. It is the synthesis of the forms that create the moment. 

What do you think is the greatest challenge for a lighting designer to convey in a show? 

I think all elements--scenery, costumes, lighting, etc.--all share the same challenges, namely, how do we tell the story we want to tell? 

Is it more difficult when directors allow you to build your vision from a blank slate, or when they give you a specific vision of their own? 

Working in the theatre is a collaborative process. I do not believe it is just one person's "vision." The most satisfying projects are when we all contribute, each in their discipline. That being said, the director is the leader, of sorts. He/she had brought a group of designers, singers, managers, etc. together to create a production that will have impact for the time and moment it is created. 

Has technology changed your process and execution for better or worse? Have there been any significant challenges you've faced with change? 

This is a difficult question to consider...There is not a simple answer. Yes, technology has had (and is having) a profound effect on how we work in the theatre. Lighting in productions can be far more complex today than it could be 20-30 years ago. Computer-controlled lighting fixtures and consoles have opened new and exciting ways of thinking. This is definably better. However, although it is not really possible, time seems to get faster every year! The economics of our world means one must do more in less time. This is not always conducive to making meaningful art. This is not better. 

In training the next generation of lighting designers, what do you try to impart to your students? Have their interests and goals changed over the years?

I try to impart to my students what the initial process of lighting design is, how to give light significance in context. Questions of meaning, structure, process and intent must be examined and discussed. What light can and cannot communicate. Hopefully, my students will begin to develop a visual and conceptual vocabulary, a first step in the practice of creating ideas with light. I hope I can give my students a different way of seeing. As to their interests and goals...most want what many of us want: to work in a profession that is fulfilling and satisfying and lead a fruitful life. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in lighting design?

Be open-minded...Embrace the world...Expand your passion...Understand the world you want to be part of...exploit a range of experiences, from opera, museums, dance, concerts, happenings, dance parties. Fill your mind with different points of view. And lastly, but most importantly, I would ask myself the question: What kind of life do you want to live? 

When you have an answer, go and begin to live it. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Join the Adventure in our 2015-16 Season!

On February 3rd, we unveiled our lineup for the coming 2015-16 season. We invite you to Join the Adventure as we embark on both the imaginative journeys of the operas, as well as the new pathways that opera in Atlanta has taken in recent years. The operas we have planned will take you on adventures around the world and into an exotic realm of beauty and heartbreak. 

We open our mainstage season at the Cobb Energy Centre with a fresh interpretation of Puccini's La bohème, a celebrated journey of romance and camaraderie in the magical French Quarter in Paris. March takes us on a rollicking sea-faring voyage to the shores of England with Gilbert and Sullivan's adventurous The Pirates of Penzance, a first for the Atlanta Opera. The season draws to a close in the romantic town of Verona with Gounod's grand interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, an adventure of love that ends in tragedy.

There is a major renaissance going on in the world of opera right now, and its epicenter in the United States. We plan to be a key player in that revolution, and in the evolution of the art form. While Atlanta audiences enthusiastically embrace the classical works that we present in a new, innovative way on the main stage, they have also shown as appetite for both new and experimental works, and new perspectives on less frequently staged operas. We are proud to launch our Atlanta Opera Discoveries series this spring with out inaugural production of Three Decembers at the Alliance Theatre in May. Next season, Discoveries brings us Schubert's song-cycle Winterreise (Winter's Journey), presented in a striking new multimedia production. We will also present the Southeastern premiere of David T. Little's Soldier Songs, a powerful musical event that combines elements of theater, opera, and rock-infused music to explore the perceptions and realities of a soldier's journey from innocence to experience. 

Rather than write a lot about the shows, we hope you will come experience them yourself. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland: "No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time." We're off on a great adventure. Join us.

Tomer Zvulun
General & Artistic Director