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

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

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):