Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Emperor of Atlantis: reviewed

The Emperor of Atlantis has a truly amazing history--we’ve been talking about it on this very blog. The piece was written in a Nazi concentration camp in Terezin, but the original rehearsal process was shut down, and both the composer and librettist were murdered during the war. For audience members who read about the show beforehand, the circumstances of the piece become inseparable from the work.

However, BLO’s production of The Emperor of Atlantis is such a world unto itself that it can also apparently stand on solid legs with no context at all. I brought a friend to the show who knew nothing about Der Kaiser von Atlantis, and she was blown away by the performance. Only after the show, did we discuss how the opera came to be. I found it easy to be sucked into the immediate world of the show when everything was so thoughtful and visually detailed, but the terrible circumstances of the work’s creation always hovered, chillingly so. The musical references in the score, from dance-hall vaudeville to Bach chorale, are so well placed that you can feel the wry intention behind every note.

The double bill of The Emperor of Atlantis and After-Image, the world premiere prologue by Richard Beaudoin, was a completely surrounding theatrical experience. The opera begun the minute I entered the theater and found the ensemble of supernumeraries (who were a highly visible and integral part of the show) stationed throughout the theater, already performing. I had no preconceptions about what the show should look like (unlike going to see Madama Butterfly, for instance.) It was as if Kevin Burdette, who led the cast as Death, and his fellow singer-actors (all physically and vocally stunning) were creating their roles for the first time, guided by a very strong compositional force furnished by director David Schweizer and conductor Stephen Lipsitt. In real time, the show seemed to spring fully formed from nowhere—it is a rare and exciting experience to go to the opera and not have any idea what is coming next!

More like this, please.

- Audrey Chait, Brown University

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