- Andrew Alexander For the AJC
The Atlanta Opera season opens this week, but if you show up at the company’s customary venue of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, you’re out of luck.
The first show, a production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Seven Deadly Sins,” takes place at the Maison Rouge nightclub in the Paris on Ponce market as part of the company’s popular new Discoveries Series, which places smaller chamber works in unusual venues around town.
The inventiveness of the site-specific production, the limited number of tickets for the intimate space and the presence of a major opera star promise that “The Seven Deadly Sins” will be one of the hottest tickets of the new season.
“I’ve done operetta in a cabaret-style but not in such a small, intimate venue,” says acclaimed mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore, who will be making her role debut as Anna I in the Atlanta Opera’s production of “The Seven Deadly Sins.” “I’ve done a million different productions in a million different venues — some have been very small — but I think this is going to be very special. The most important thing to me is communication with the audience. Wherever I am, be it big or small, I’m going to think about how to get that character over the footlights.”
Larmore, who grew up in the Atlanta area, currently lives near Paris. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995 as Rosina in “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” and throughout her illustrious career she’s become especially well-known for her performances in coloratura and bel canto roles. She last performed with the Atlanta Opera in 2008 in the lead role of “La Cenerentola.” Although she’s performed Kurt Weill songs in recital before, the role of Anna 1 in “The Seven Deadly Sins” marks a new direction for her. “When I was talking about possibilities for bringing me back to Atlanta, this came up and I jumped on it,” she says. “I love Kurt Weill. It was on my wish list.”
Although the role is a departure, her approach will be similar.
“The way I sing anything comes from the drama, from the words, from how it makes me feel, how I think it should be communicated,” she says. “The challenge is always to make every intention crystal clear to my audience.”
Larmore performs the role of Anna I on Sept 28, Oct 1, 3 and 5. Atlanta Opera Studio Artist mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino performs the role Sept. 29, 30, Oct. 4 and 6.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” was the final collaboration between composer Kurt Weill and writer Bertolt Brecht. The piece included roles for Weill’s wife, singer Lotte Lenya, and for the wife of the production’s financial backer Edward James, dancer Tilly Losch. The work tells the story of two sisters, Anna I and Anna II, who travel to seven American cities and are tempted at each place into one of the deadly sins. The role of Anna I is performed by a singer and Anna II by a dancer.
“This piece provides such a colorful palette,” says dancer Meg Gillentine, who choreographed the work and performs the role of Anna II. “I love all the different levels of the music. It allows me to explore. The boundaries are limitless to what I can do with it.”
Gillentine is a veteran of Broadway and Hollywood where she’s worked frequently as a dancer and choreographer, but she’s still somewhat new to the world of opera. Her husband, renowned tenor Jay Hunter Morris, has been an invaluable guide, she says. Gillentine will also choreograph the Atlanta Opera’s upcoming mainstage production of “The Flying Dutchman,” which features her husband in the lead role. The two were married in 2008, but the production will be their first time working together.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” marks a significant first for its director, as well. Brian Clowdus is artistic director at Serenbe Playhouse, which has become well-known for its elaborate site-specific productions.
“I love reinventing classic work,” says Clowdus. “In opera you can really bend the rules. I love that opera can be super-epic and theatrical. Theater and opera need to be reinvented and need to have new breath. I’ve never done opera, but I’m going to treat this like any theater piece”
The notion of duality captured by the split lead roles of Anna I and Anna II particularly intrigued Clowdus.
“The first time I heard it, I was excited about these two women,” he says. “This all came about during the time of the show ‘Feud’ (about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), which I was absolutely obsessed with. The main thing we’re grappling with is how you deal with multiple aspects of a personality. We’re blurring the boundaries of what exists and what doesn’t. I want the audience to leave this piece looking into themselves. I want them thinking about what sides of themselves they hide from people and what sides they hide from themselves.”