Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Viktor Ullmann: The Emperor Of Atlantis (2005)

This is a video clip from Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film, which was broadcast on BBC2 TV, January 22, 2005, as part of Holocaust Memorial events. The soloists are as follows: Iwona Hossa, Tove Dahlberg, Edgaras Montvidas and Gerard Finley.

Viktor Ullmann (b, Jan. 1, 1898), Silesia-born Austrian composer, conductor and pianist of Jewish ancestry (his parents had converted to Catholicism before his birth), worked on an opera while a prisoner at Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Viktor was deported there with his wife Elisabeth on September 8, 1942. (The Nazis did not allow the opera to be performed, but it was fittingly performed there in 1995.)

On October 16, 1944, Viktor Ullmann was deported to the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and on on October 18, 1944, he was killed in the gas chambers; he was 46. Elisabeth Ullmann (b. September 27, 1900; née Frank) died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, precise date unknown; she was 44 or 45.

This one-act opera was first performed by the Netherlands Opera, conducted by Kerry Woodward, at the Bellevue Centre, Amsterdam, on December 16, 1975.

In “The Emperor of Atlantis,” John Mangum, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator, writes about the opera’s overarching theme:
Ullmann started with a libretto by the poet and painter Petr Kien, an allegory on the Nazis' disregard for human life. Death and Harlequin (who represents life) both no longer fulfill any function in the Empire of Atlantis, where Emperor Overall (an allegory for Hitler) values neither. As a result, the living have ceased to live and the dying have ceased to die. The Emperor tries to put a positive spin on things, declaring that his soldiers are now invincible, but in reality his armies lie wounded and bleeding, in an agony that Death cannot end. Death offers the Emperor a bargain: He will resume his work if the Emperor will be his first victim. The Emperor agrees, and the work ends with a reminder: "Thou shalt not take Death's great name in vain."
You can read more about the life and work of Viktor Ullmann here.

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