The Atlanta Opera is a professional company that brings opera to Georgia stages. Founded in 1979 as the Atlanta Civic Opera, the Atlanta Opera enjoys an increasing level of local and international acclaim and plays to growing audiences each year.

History of Opera in Atlanta

Opera has been a part of the cultural and social history of Atlanta since the late nineteenth century, when touring companies and visiting artists performed for Georgia’s music aficionados. Interest in opera and musical performance was widespread. Atlanta’s first music festival, organized in 1909 by the Atlanta Music Festival Association, attracted 25,000 people from all over the state.

The success of this first festival inspired the association to establish an annual engagement with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Beginning in 1910, the relationship lasted for more than seventy years and brought opera stars like Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini to Atlanta’s stages.

From 1910 to 1986 the Metropolitan Opera arrived in Atlanta each spring for Opera Week. Performances and special events sponsored by the Atlanta Music Club and other organizations captivated audiences year after year, with a break occurring only during the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II (1941-45). Perhaps inspired by the Metropolitan Opera’s annual performances, local artists soon sought to establish an opera company of their own.

Origins of the Atlanta Opera

Several local opera companies came and went, each overshadowed by the prestige of the Metropolitan Opera. Though the desire for a local company continued to resurface, each attempt suffered from financial, artistic, and organizational difficulties and ultimately failed.

The year 1976 brought the debut of both the Georgia Opera and the Atlanta Lyric Opera. Like others, the companies dissolved within a few years. In 1979 members of the two companies combined to form the Atlanta Civic Opera. Along with the talent the company inherited from the Georgia Opera and Atlanta Lyric Opera, however, it also acquired their combined debt. Struggling financially and artistically, the Atlanta Civic Opera stopped performing in 1983.

In 1984 the president of the Atlanta Civic Opera board, Alfred Kennedy, led the charge to build a new opera company. Kennedy appointed William Fred Scott, formerly of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as artistic director, and he served in that capacity until 2005. In 1985, after a host of fiscal and organizational revisions, this new company was renamed the Atlanta Opera. Though debt was still a problem, the Atlanta Opera found increasing support from audiences and commercial patrons each year. The end of the Metropolitan Opera’s annual visits in 1986 gave the company room to establish itself among the local patronage and to boost its profile as the area’s own professional opera company.

Major Achievements

Growing audiences prompted the company in 1995 to move performances from the 1,748-seat Symphony Hall of the Woodruff Arts Center to the 4,518-seat Fox Theatre, where the Atlanta Opera performed until 2003. In the fall of 2003, the company moved to the largest stage in the Southeast, the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, to accommodate an expanded number of performances.

The Atlanta Opera’s performances include both local and national artists, with the Atlanta Opera Chorus composed entirely of local singers. In 1996 the Atlanta Opera Chorus performed at the International Opera Gala during the Olympic games. The chorus shared the program with another Georgian, the renowned soprano Jessye Norman.

Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman

Image from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

In 1998 the Atlanta Opera moved into its first permanent rehearsal and administrative office space. The $5 million building established a physical presence for the company in the heart of Atlanta, just a few blocks from the Fox Theatre.

In addition to producing a full season of opera performances each year, the Atlanta Opera also provides educational programs in the arts. The Atlanta Opera Studio promotes the arts by offering opera workshops for teachers and students and by performing in schools around the state. The Atlanta Opera also offers long-term educational programs and dress-rehearsal tickets to local schools, in addition to hosting pre-performance lectures and discussions.

Significance

One of the nation’s fastest-growing opera companies, the Atlanta Opera has garnered attention from critics and audiences around the world. The company highlights Atlanta both as a city with a commitment to the music and drama of opera and as a leader in the arts.

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Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman, an Augusta native, began her career as an opera singer in 1969 with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Germany. She subsequently performed in Milan, Italy, and London, England, before making her debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1983.

Image from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

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