The Atlanta Opera’s Big Tent Series kicks off this week with two vibrant productions re-imagining classic operas. “The Threepenny Opera” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht will feature puppetry, produced in collaboration with the Center for Puppetry Arts. They will also be performing “The Threepenny Carmen,” an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s 1875 masterpiece. Both are directed by Atlanta artistic director Tomer Zvulun. He joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes, along with puppet maker and Artistic Director for the Center of Puppetry Arts Jon Ludwig, to talk about the upcoming productions.
Why “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Threepenny Carmen” formed a natural pairing:
“Both the pieces are about marginalized societies,” said Zvulun. “It’s very blatant in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill – they were very influenced by Marxism and by the idea of how much they hated capitalism, and how they felt that it creates abuse of certain weaker parts of societies. Same thing goes for ‘Carmen,’ which was originally about the marginalized communities of the gypsies at the time.”
On the two operas’ skillful social commentary through storytelling:
“The reason [‘The Threepenny Opera’] was such a hit in 1928 is because it was such a fun evening in the theater. The music was catchy, the audience laughed … it was an escapist way from the woes of the time period, and the same goes for ‘Carmen,'” said Zvulun. “We can talk a lot about the intellectual part of it, but the bottom line is that those are some of the most beloved, entertaining, catchy pieces.”
“You can’t just hit the audience on the head with harsh truths without seducing them. In order for them to listen to you, you’ve got to figure out a way to tell stories in a way that will attract them,” said Zvulun. “[Kurt Weill] said that, if the boundaries of opera cannot accommodate the theatre of the time… then those boundaries must be broken.”
On creative solutions to COVID safety restrictions:
“When Tomer approached me … and had this concept of different groups, and they were puppets, it made total sense … We wanted to create this density of visual representation,” said Ludwig. “[Freestanding puppets] could be in the scene but not necessarily manipulated. But they added to the crowd scenes. Going back to COVID restrictions … when Tomer told me about it, I said ‘I can see this, I can see it.'”
The Molly Blank Big Tent Series begins on April 15.