Atlanta takes opera to the COVID circus
ATLANTA — The life-art imitation question is age-old, but if 2020 has anything to say the answer is clear: even the fictional characters of our operas have developed COVID-19.
The Atlanta Opera premiered an outdoor series this week, set to run through mid-November, that features live performances of “Pagliacci” and “The Kaiser of Atlantis” under a circus tent on a baseball field, with scripts retrofitted for our virus-plagued times.
In the southeastern US city’s version of “Pagliacci,” an 1890s opera from Ruggero Leoncavallo, the jealous clown Canio contracts coronavirus.
“A world that is in the middle of a pandemic is a part of the storytelling,” said Tomer Zvulun, the Atlanta Opera’s director.
Performers sing and play instruments in plexiglass enclosures or wear masks, and the audience sits in four-person socially distanced pods.
Zvulun emphasized the strategy was less about money, and more about adapting to a society in distress.
“As artists we are nimble enough, we are desperate enough, we are committed enough to find a way to do what we do best and connect with a community,” he said.
The staging of “Pagliacci” also sees new technologies onstage like Facetime deployed as well as centuries-old ones, with puppets allowing for some of the physical comedy.
The safety measures are strict: Performers have undergone frequent COVID-19 tests, and Michael Mayes, who plays the titular Kaiser in the run of the “Atlantis” opera, said he and his wife rarely go anywhere besides rehearsals.
But it’s worth it, the 44-year-old said.
“I missed it terribly,” Mayes said. “Being able to be a part of the ensemble that’s in the community and meeting the public where they are… it’s been a real bright spot.”
And singing behind a mask?
“The sound is different, but it’s just as valid,” he said.
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