Opera: The Emperor of Atlantis

Tuesday evening was an opportunity to catch the first preview of The Emperor of Atlantis (otherwise known as Der Kaiser von Atlantis) by Viktor Ullmann. The production is the first from the recently formed Dioneo Opera Company, which is focusing on contemporary and lesser-known works. Based on this production, their future looks very promising.

Continuing the trend in London of imaginative productions with incredibly talented, energetic (loud) young performers, this production of the chamber opera is emotional and gripping. It is nicely staged with some fine singing. Unlike other small-scale opera productions where there was simply a piano accompaniment, there is the Dioneo Players under the direction of John Murton, emphasising the dramatic musical expression of the work. Or maybe as I was sitting above them, I could feel the full dramatic force...

The piece was written by Czech-Jewish composer, Viktor Ullmann in 1943 in the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin. The story approaches the Holocaust from an absurdist perspective building to a haunting, redemptive chorale. It was never performed there as the Nazi's saw the similarities between the emperor and Hitler and banned the piece. Shortly afterwards the composer and librettist were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. The manuscript survived and had its first performance in 1975. Watching the piece is like discovering a new eyewitness account of a well-known atrocity as it alternates between despair and optimism.

Their very short initial run at the Cello Factory in Waterloo (an unexpected place for an opera) followed by a run later in the year to the Arcola Theatre in August. It will no doubt benefit from a space suited to theatre, but Waterloo location has other benefits, such as being in central London with a great little pub The White Heart opposite.

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