Although the Atlanta Opera’s 2020-2021 season was thrown off track by COVID-19, artistic director Tomer Zvulun has nonetheless found a way to produce. His outdoor Big Tent series, which started in the fall of 2020 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, has just opened again with the world premiere of “The Threepenny Carmen” on tap, alongside a version of “The Threepenny Opera.” Jorge Parodi, who is gay, is the conductor of the new version of “The Threepenny Carmen” and also worked with Zvulun on writing the adaptation.
The project has been in the works for a few years. Parodi and Zvulun had been thinking of adapting “Carmen,” but put it on hold a few summers ago. When the company had to rethink what it could produce this season, Zvulun reached out again and the two decided the time was right.
In this production, Parodi oversees a cast of 13 performers, down from the usual cast size of 66. In simplifying the show, he knew the normal production could not fit on the Big Tent stage and that the production needed to focus more on the principal characters of the piece. “’Carmen’ is a long show with lots of spectacle and smugglers and townspeople and the bullfighters,” he said. “All those elements are out, and we are focusing on the characters and their development.”
This version is set in a flamenco bar, and flamenco superstar Sonia Olla is in the cast, while Tom Key, the former artistic director of Theatrical Outfit, is also in both of the pieces. In the bar — the Threepenny Tavern — many of the opera’s numbers became numbers in the show the bar is producing, part of the spectacle of the revised take. This production of “The Threepenny Carmen” runs 90 minutes, in sharp contrast to the three-hour-plus normal run time of Bizet’s beloved work.
Parodi has lived in Manhattan for 22 years and is originally from Argentina. He came relatively late to opera. The first opera he ever heard was at the age of 17. Living in a small town, there was very little available to him in terms of music making. Nonetheless, he was always attracted to music and started studying piano when he was six. He eventually came to the United States and attended the University of Michigan. He got his first job when he was in his 30s, and since then he has worked around the world to great acclaim. Among his roles now is serving as the Music Director of the Senior Opera Theatre at the Manhattan School of Music, acting as a vocal coach at The Julliard School, and freelancing. Parodi has worked with the Atlanta Opera before, having conducted the popular tango opera “Maria de Buenos Aires” at the company in 2017 and again in 2019.
The company’s Big Tent series is performed in a custom-made tent without walls, where fresh air can continually pass through the venue at all times and still protect audiences from weather. It holds up to 200 audience members at a time.
The cast and crew have rehearsed safely leading up to the run. “Everyone is in masks and we keep a distance,” said Parodi. “There are limitations on what can be done on stage. No touching. No kissing. No singing to each other’s faces. It’s a challenge to keep the story going without the normal interaction, but we have someone who is making sure the actors are not too close. We have all been vaccinated. The company was able to offer vaccinations to the cast. We feel everyone is being taken care of.”
Parodi feels the LGBTQ community will be entertained by the new take on a classic. “The show itself is very colorful, very dynamic, and there’s a lot of sexual energy,” he said. “There’s also the element that Carmen herself is a very free personality and wants to exercise her right to choose what is right for her. She is a very self-assured character.”
“The Threepenny Carmen” runs April 23, 25, 28 & 30; May 2, 6, & 8 under the Big Tent at the Cobb Energy Center Performing Arts Centre parking lot. All performances begin at 8pm except the May 2 matinee, which begins at 2pm.