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Atlanta Opera’s 2012-13 season to offer mainline masterpieces with heralded singers

Atlanta Opera will use this set for "Italian Girl in Algiers," created for a staging in Santa Fe. (Courtesy Santa Fe Opera)
The Atlanta Opera will use this set for Rossini’s "The Italian Girl in Algiers," created for a production in Santa Fe. (Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera)

The Atlanta Opera officially announced its 2012-13 season before a gathering of donors, volunteers and local media Monday evening at a reception in the company’s rehearsal space. The centerpiece was the revelation of the three mainstage productions to be held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre: Bizet’s “Carmen,” Verdi’s “La traviata” and Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

The schedule reflects traditional operatic tastes. “La traviata” and “Carmen” are second and third on the list of most-performed operas worldwide since 2005, behind only Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” according to the Operabase online database. It will be a “safe bet” season, with few risks. But looking at it within the context of the past several seasons, Atlanta Opera shows promise for broadening its audience while retaining loyal patrons. It also offers the serious prospect of moving over time from being a fine regional company to a major operatic institution with a forcefully influential artistic voice.

The season will open November 10 with “Carmen,” the story of a Gypsy woman with the ability to seduce any man she wants. Attracting the ardent attention of Don José, an army corporal, she abandons him for a handsome bullfighter, Escamillo. Jealousy and passion being the fashion of fate, Carmen is ultimately killed by her spurned lover, Don José.

Mezzo-soprano Maria José Montiel will make her Atlanta Opera debut as Carmen, her first U.S. performance of a role that has brought her critical acclaim overseas. Mexican tenor Fernando de la Mora is cast as Don José. Aleksey Bogdanov, as Escamillio, and soprano Melissa Shippen, as Micaëla, both will also make their Atlanta Opera debuts. AO Music Director Arthur Fagen will conduct, with stage direction by Jeffrey Buchman, choreography by Rosa Mercedes and a set designed by Allen Charles Klein.

Verdi’s “La traviata” will follow, opening March 2, 2013, the bicentennial year of the composer’s birth. In this tragic tale of a “fallen woman,” Violetta Valery, mistress of a wealthy baron, is swept off her feet by a young nobleman, Alfredo Germont. But Alfredo’s father intervenes, persuading her to end the relationship. After subsequent distancing, misunderstanding and jealous rage, the lovers are reunited just in time for Violetta to die of tuberculosis (opera’s favorite disease).

Soprano Mary Dunleavy will sing the ebullient Violetta, the signature role of her career. The New York Times said she gives a “sensitive, vocally formidable and textured portrayal.” Russian tenor Boris Rudak will make his U.S. debut as Alfredo, and baritone Weston Hurt will sing the role of his father, Giorgio. Joseph Rescigno, artistic adviser and principal conductor of the Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee, will conduct. The sets, owned by the company, were designed by Claude Girard and Bernard Uzan.

The final production of the season will be “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” Rossini’s colorful comedy about how far lovers will go (literally) to be together. Opening April 27, 2013, it will be the first performance of “The Italian Girl” by the Atlanta Opera.

In this modernized production, set in the 1930s, Isabella, the Italian girl, is portrayed as an aviatrix who crash-lands her airplane in Algiers while trying to find her boyfriend, Lindoro, who was captured by Barbary pirates and made a slave of the Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers. (The fact that by 1930 Algeria had been a French colony for a century is conveniently ignored.) The production will utilize a “pop-up book”-style set designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, originally created for a 2002 staging by the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy will portray Isabella, and tenor Michele Angelini as Lindoro, Turkish bass Burak Bilgili as Mustafà and Bruno Praticò as Taddeo all will make their AO debuts. Fagen again will conduct, while Chris Alexander will make his AO debut as stage director.

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