Costume designs for The Threepenny Opera and The Threepenny Carmen by Erik Teague and Joanna Schmink respectively, courtesy of The Atlanta Opera

Next Thursday, April 15, sees the launch of The Atlanta Opera’s live, in-person spring season, highlighted by the world premiere productions of new adaptations of two iconic operas, both deconstructed for our challenging times by General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun. Starring Megan Marino, Richard Trey Smagur and Michael Mayes, with Flamenco dance legend Sonia Olla in her company debut, The Threepenny Carmen bows on April 15. Next, opening on April 22, The Threepenny Opera features Jay Hunter Morris, Kevin Burdette, Gina Perregrino, Kelly Kaduce and puppets by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines of the Center for Puppetry Arts. Together with three live spring concerts, the first of which falls on April 17, the new adaptations form part of The Atlanta Opera’s “Big Tent” series, which kicked off last fall, blazing a bold and innovative trail at a time when few opera companies anywhere in the world dared to mount live performances during the pandemic. Like the fall productions, the five spring presentations will all take place in The Atlanta Opera’s customized circus tent, where they will be filmed for summer release in the company’s new digital membership service, Spotlight Media.
The Threepenny Carmen (April 15–May 8)
Costume designs for The Threepenny Opera and The Threepenny Carmen by Erik Teague and Joanna Schmink respectively, courtesy of The Atlanta Opera
To create The Threepenny Carmen, which captures the essence of Bizet’s 1875 classic as an exploration of sexual freedom and social hierarchies, Zvulun worked with Jorge Parodi, the General and Artistic Director of Opera Hispánica, and Tom Key, the former Artistic Director of Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. The adaptation’s premiere production will be anchored by five of the Atlanta Opera Company Players, the world-class singers based in and around the Atlanta metro area who have been hired for the duration of the season. American-Italian mezzo-soprano Megan Marino makes her title role debut as Carmen, with soprano Jasmine Habersham as Micaëla, Richard Trey Smagur as Don José, and baritones Michael Mayes and Theo Hoffman sharing the role of Escamillo. The cast also features two Atlanta Opera Studio members, with mezzo Gabrielle Beteag as Mercédès and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin as El Dancaïro. Rounding out the cast are Nathan MunsonAlejandra Sandoval and Key, under the baton of Zvulun’s collaborator Parodi, an Argentinean-born conductor blessed with “the most expressive conducting hands since Stokowski’s” (New York Daily News).
Directed by Zvulun himself, Atlanta’s world premiere production of The Threepenny Carmen updates the action to a Spanish-themed dive bar, where Carmen herself works as a cabaret singer. Designed by ArtsImpulse Theatre Award-winner Julia Noulin-Mérat and Joanna Schmink respectively, the sets and costumes draw inspiration from the films of Pedro Almodóvar, using bold primary colors and a larger-than-life aesthetic to reflect the bar owner’s crudely reductive approach to the cultures he exploits. Flamenco features heavily in this conception, and the production marks the Atlanta Opera debut of Flamenco dancer Sonia Olla, “a furnace of earthy sensuality” (New York Times), whose extensive choreography credits include Madonna’s 2015-16 world tour.
The Threepenny Opera (April 22–May 9)
Puppetry from The Threepenny Opera (photos: Felipe Barral for The Atlanta Opera)
To produce a more succinct retelling of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Weimar-era masterpiece The Threepenny Opera while retaining the original score, Zvulun embarked on an ambitious partnership with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. Atlanta’s world premiere production of their streamlined new adaptation stars Grammy-winning tenor Jay Hunter Morris, one of the quintessential Wagnerians of our time, in his role debut as the notorious criminal Macheath. Morris sings opposite the Jenny of “standout” (Opera News) mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino, with bass Kevin Burdette as Jonathan Peachum, mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller making her company debut as Mrs. Peachum, soprano Kelly Kaduce as their daughter, Polly, and Atlanta Opera Studio members Joshua Conyers and Susanne Burgess as police chief Tiger and his daughter, Lucy. As narrator and street singer, Tom Key completes the cast, and Francesco Milioto, Music Director of Opera San Antonio, makes his company debut on the podium, where he shares conducting duties with Clinton Smith, as seen in last fall’s production of The Kaiser of Atlantis.
For their adaptation’s world premiere production, Zvulun and his design team created an innovative new concept featuring barriers and masks that allow them to maintain a safe distance between the singers while also illustrating the ways their characters feel trapped within the various roles they inhabit. Similarly, by using puppets to play the prostitutes, beggars, gangsters and policemen who normally fall to the opera’s chorus, Zvulun not only addresses the need for a reduced cast, but provides a pointed metaphor about the limited agency accorded to such groups in society.
The puppets were designed by Emmy-nominated Artistic Director Jon Ludwig and Resident Puppet Builder Jason Hines of Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, the nation’s largest organization devoted to the art form. Forging an aesthetic link with the puppets while offering additional virus protection, the singers will wear giant heads created by Costume Designer Erik Teague, a two-time winner of the Kennedy Center’s Barbizon Award.
Big Tent concerts (April 17, May 1 & May 8)
In addition to the opera productions, The Atlanta Opera showcases the Company Players and Studio Artists in three live Big Tent concerts this spring. Michael MayesTheo HoffmanGabrielle BeteagJosh Conyers and Meg Marino revisit some of the genres they knew and loved before discovering opera in “Crossroads: The Sequel” (April 17), following the success of Atlanta’s first Crossroads concert, “an entertaining performance that demonstrated the singers’ ability to sing these more vernacular American styles with authenticity” (EarRelevant).
Next, in Imagine Broadway (May 1), Susanne BurgessCalvin GriffinKelly KaduceJay Hunter Morris and Trey Smagur sing favorite showtunes with Elena Kholodova on piano. To conclude the series, Morris Robinson leads a Concert for Unity (May 8). Featuring Ronnita MillerJoshua Conyers and Jasmine Habersham, with spoken word artist Enoch King and pianist Damien Sneed, this will be presented in collaboration with the City of South Fulton Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs and Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. True Colors, whose mission is to celebrate the rich traditions of Black storytelling while giving voice to bold artists from all cultures, also hosts an encore performance of the concert, with a shorter program, at Atlanta’s Southwest Arts Center (May 9 at 2pm).
Both opera productions and all three concerts will be captured in high-definition film versions for release later this summer.
About The Atlanta Opera
The Atlanta Opera’s mission is to build the major international opera company that Atlanta deserves, while reimagining what the art form can be. Founded in 1979, the company works with world-renowned singers, conductors, directors, and designers who seek to enhance the art form. Under the leadership of internationally recognized stage director and Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, The Atlanta Opera expanded from three to four mainstage productions at Cobb Energy Centre and launched the acclaimed Discoveries series. In recent years, the company has been named among the “Best of 2015” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award, and recently won ArtsATL’s 2019 Luminary Award for Community Engagement in recognition of its successful Veterans Program in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation. In addition, The Atlanta Opera was featured in a 2018 Harvard Business School case study about successful organizational growth, and Zvulun was invited to present a TEDx Talk at Emory University titled “The Ambidextrous Opera Company, or Opera in the Age of iPhones.” For more information, visit