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Atlanta Opera finds ways to perform during pandemic by using plexiglass dividers, other COVID precautions

Despite the pandemic, The Atlanta Opera moved quickly with innovation and capturing the value of virtual technology to gain worldwide recognition.

ATLANTA — How exactly do you perform an opera during a pandemic? It takes a lot of creativity, along with some plexiglass and vinyl.

When the pandemic shuttered Atlanta's vibrant art scene, it was only a matter of time until it came back to prove "the show must go on."

Right in the middle of a sold-out run of Porgy & Bess, the pandemic forced The Atlanta Opera to shut down. But by September, the Opera bought a circus tent and set it up at Oglethorpe University, ready to perform in late October.

And with that, the Opera was back in business, operating under the leadership of Tomer Zvulun, and under strict CDC guidelines.

“When you have a crisis like that it expedites everything. It becomes a catalyst for everything you wanted to do because you have no other choice but doing it,” Zvulun said.

Inside the tent, 20 performances of the Opera Pagliacci was attended by 2,500 people -- all with masks, all socially distanced, with plexiglass dividers between orchestra members, with opera singers divided by vinyl barriers, and with a chorus piped in with video.

Credit: Provided

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All of this was done despite the Opera taking a major financial hit.

“We reduced the budget by 35 percent. We had to take salary cuts. We had to change health benefits. We had to lay off some staff,” Zvulun added.

But it was the very set up that allowed the tent production to take the Atlanta Opera worldwide. They recorded the Pagliacci performance, streamed it across the globe, and it has already been seen by more than 6 million viewers.

And that’s setting the stage for the Opera's immediate future. In mid-April the tent goes back up, but this time in the Cobb Energy Center  parking lot for productions of Three Penny Opera and Carmen.

And does the audience like it?

First-time opera goers like Terrence Duong sure thinks so.

“The situation made it a lot more fun. Very unique and very memorable, so when they come back to the Cobb Galleria, I am definitely going to check it out and see about going to attend again,” Duong said.

You can watch the full interview with Tomer Zvulun, artistic director of The Atlanta Opera below.