Review: The Emperor of Atlantis, English Touring Opera

The Emperor of Atlantis, English Touring Opera, Snape, November 11

Many works of art (in the widest sense) have emerged from adversity but a few have been composed in the most unlikely and appalling circumstances. Among the latter is The Emperor of Atlantis, composed by Viktor Ullmann in 1943 while imprisoned in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Ullmann had studied with Schonberg and enjoyed some success as a composer but he died, along with most of his artistic collaborators at Auschwitz in 1944.

Theresienstadt was not a typical concentration camp. Imprisoned there were a large number of artists, actors, writers and musicians and the Nazi authorities allowed an unusual degree of artistic freedom, one result of which was The Emperor of Atlantis, composed to a libretto by the brilliant young Peter Kien. Not surprisingly, it encompasses a wide emotional spectrum , satirical, passionate and, with the final chorale as the victims await their fate, deeply touching.

James Conway’s thoughtful direction prefaced the work with Bach’s Cantata ‘Christ lag in Todesbaden’, a work full of references to death and graves. It was superbly sung and provided a noble and dignified entry to the work. Richard Mosley-Evans was excellent, full of self-deceiving bluster as the Emperor and Robert Winslade-Anderson and Jeff Stewart put their authority on the roles of Death and Harlequin respectively. Katie Bray gave an arresting performance as the Drummer with a controlled, manic intensity when required. Paula Sides and Rupert Charlesworth brought energy, anger and pathos to their scene together and Callum Thorpe did a good job in the curious role of the Loudspeaker. The final scene moved on a different plane, however, -calm, beautifully sung and intensely moving.

Once again, the admirable and creative English Touring Opera deserve our plaudits for bringing two such interesting and well performed works to Snape. It is a pity that more people did not see them.

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Gareth Jones

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