Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kyungho Kim as Harlequin | A soldier and Rowan Hellier as The drummer [Photo by Barbara Braun courtesy of Staatsoper Berlin]
02 Feb 2013

Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin

Recent seasons have seen a surge in so-called ‘Holocaust operas,’ from Peter Androsch’s Spiegelrund, which premiered in Vienna last week, to Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger, unveiled with a half-century of delay in Bregenz in 2010.

Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Kyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat and Rowan Hellier as Der Trommler

Photos by Barbara Braun courtesy of Staatsoper Berlin

 

The topic of Nazi politics may be bone-chilling, but when written by survivors, allows for some emotional distance and reflection. Meanwhile, history has bequeathed us what may be considered a Holocaust opera in the true sense of the word. The Staatsoper Berlin is currently performing Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis),which was penned at the concentration camp Theresienstadt to a libretto by Peter Kien just before the authors were transported to Auschwitz in 1944. The chamber opera premiered in Amsterdam 31 years after their death.

Theresienstadt served as both a transit post and a kind of sham for the extent of the SS forces’ brutality. Leo Baeck, Pavel Haas, and Gideon Klein count among the conscripted intelligentsia at the ‘model ghetto,’ where Ullmann was engaged as an official music critic. A freelance musician schooled in Schönbergian composition, the Silesian native found himself with more time to compose than ever before. His score creates a dizzying, but organic blend of serialist passages, sardonic cabaret, and Mahleresque harmonies while subversively weaving in melodies such as ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’ in the final chorus. It is an at once harrowing and uplifting setting of Kien’s libretto, which provides a vivid depiction of the inner turmoil but resignation a prisoner found in the end of life as he knew it.

The story in some ways calls to Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in its montage-like structure and ambiguous treatment of death. A Loudspeaker announces in the prologue that the living can no longer laugh and the dying can no longer lament. Harlekin, better known as Arlecchino, the commedia dell’arte stock character, is so bored that he begs Death to his duty. But Death has decided to condemn mortals to eternal life. Kaiser Overall, whose resemblance to Hitler prevented further rehearsals of the opera in the summer of 1944, is informed by telephone of a plague whereby none of his soldiers can die. Only when the war is over does Death, “the gardener…the final lullaby,” deliver the world from pestilence. The story further includes a drummer, a soldier and a girl named Bubbikopf.

MuTphoto_2312.jpgKyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat, Gyula Orendt as Kaiser Overall and Alin Anca as Der Lautsprecher | Der Tod

The Staatsoper staging by Mascha Pörzgen, seen January 29 at the company’s Werkstatt, a small wing used for new music theater, recreates the opera’s surreal qualities while maintaining a tasteful dose of aesthetic restraint. The roles of Death and the Loudspeaker are cast with a single bass-baritone (the tireless Alin Anca), who is wheeled in on a motor-driven stool before revealing the garb of terrorist-like solider. His exchanges with the sad clown-faced Harlekin are appropriately ambivalent, while the Drummer assumes the presence of a caricature as she walks through the scene beating wooden spoons mid-air. Kaiser Overall is a psychotic bureaucrat who occupies the only hollow space in an all-white set (designs by Cordelia Matthes). The proscenium moves in closer to the audience following Harlekin’s eerie lullaby “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.”

The cast, all members of the Staatsoper’s international opera studio, gave a tight, convincing performance despite vocal unevenness. Anca carried the show with theatrical verve and a booming bass that at times risked being too loud for the space. As Harlekin and the soldier in the third scene, Kyungho Kim did not rise to the same standards of sound quality and diction but was a moving presence. The soprano Rowan Hellier gave a stand-out performance as the Drummer, while Narine Yeghiyan, in the role of Bubbikopf, at times sounded strained. Gyula Orendt gave an earnest performance as the Kaiser. Felix Krieger led an elegant reading of the score with an ensemble of the Staatskapelle, although the musicians’ position on a landing to the side of the stage was not always ideal acoustically (drowning out Orendt in his final aria, the very Mahlerian ‘Von allem, was geschieht’).The unearthly final chorus could have been drawn out with more nostalgia, while the counterpoint of a repeated, descending violin melody gave chills down the spine.

Der Kaiser von Atlantis runs through February 9.

Rebecca Schmid

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):