Opera - Mission accomplished

Perhaps taking over the opera house where the Met once reigned convinced Atlanta Opera artistic director William Fred Scott that his 20-year mission was at last complete. Capping off a year of heavy turnover and restructuring in the opera's executive staff, Scott announced his resignation this month. His resignation follows by eight months the resignation of executive director Alfred Kennedy and the recent hiring of Dennis Hanthorn as the opera's new general director. Scott will remain in his position until the end of the current season, in April 2005.

Scott was brought to Atlanta in 1981 by the legendary Robert Shaw as the associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In 1985, he signed on with the fledgling Atlanta Civic Opera (now the Atlanta Opera) at the end of the Metropolitan Opera's 75-year run of summer tours. The New York City opera company's performances were typical Met: world-class singing by superstar vocal ringers, paired with grade-school Christmas pageant acting.

Looking to the European companies of the 1950s for inspiration, Scott set out to create an ensemble musical theater company that would value drama and acting as much as music and singing.

Warm and infectiously enthusiastic, Scott is a charismatic polymath ready to speak eloquently about almost any topic with even the slightest tangential relevance to the opera at hand.

Scott's own erudition has placed some high expectations on the company. During rehearsals for a production of Eugene Onegin, one member of the chorus fretted to me that he was struggling through a crash course in Russian that Scott was providing, demanding that every last member of the chorus know exactly what they were singing so they would get the intonations, pronunciations and emotions just right.

Over the years, the company has endured its share of persistent (and lately acute) budget setbacks, pooh-poohing Met-bound critics and tongue-clucking opera puritans. But on the whole, Scott's grand experiment has been a success, necessitating ever-larger venues, culminating last year with the move to the 4,591-seat Atlanta Civic Center: the largest opera house in the country, built in the late 1960s expressly for the long-absent singing statues of the Met. Mission accomplished.??
William Fred Scott's last production as artistic director will be Beethoven's Fidelio, April 14-17. 404-881-8885. www.atlantaopera.org.

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