Viktor Ullmann: The Emperor of Atlantis – Opera – Reviews

Viktor Ullman
The Emperor of Atlantis
Lars Woldt, Christel Loetzsch, Tareq Nazmi, Johannes Chum, Adrian Eröd, Juliana Zara; Munich Radio Orchestra/Patrick Hahn
BR Klassik 900339 52:53 min

1943 opera by Viktor Ullmann The Kaiser of Atlantis was composed in Theresienstadt (Terezín), a Czech ghetto used by the Nazi regime to imprison its victims. Despite the devastating conditions, Ullmann and others continued to make music using all available resources – The Kaiser of Atlantis is written for a small ensemble including banjo and alto saxophone. The one-act, four-scene work is part parody, part wishful thinking: Death has gone on strike over a dispute with the Emperor General, who has declared war on a mythical kingdom . As the horror ensues – the dying cannot expire – the Emperor finally agrees to die in order to ensure death’s return to work.

Ullmann – who was murdered at Auschwitz shortly after guards heard rehearsals of the Schoenberg opera – passed the score to another prisoner for safekeeping. The piece is currently undergoing a revival: it was recently performed at the Barbican to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and also at the Prinzregententheater in Munich, where this excellent live recording was made. Members of the Munich Radio Orchestra are joined by a stellar cast; Johannes Chum proposes a Harlequin inspired by Weill; Tareq Nazim a dramatic death. Lars Woldt is a menacing speaker (“hallo, hallo”).

Claire Jackson