Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hello! Hello!

If you missed The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, I am truly sorry for you.
Allow me to make you feel worse via this review.

Weeks later…I’m still thinking about it. THAT’s how good it was… ;)
Prior to viewing the production, I knew quit a bit of the history behind the work. Ullmann and Kien were both captives in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where many of the “privileged” Jews were moved.  These “privileged” included a host of composers, instrumentalists, artists, writers, and intellectuals. Though the Holocaust brought an immense darkness, Terezin brought an immense light. Despite the horrors around them, these artists created works that would not only surpass time, but would be the successors of their death.
Such is the case of Ullmann and Kien who were both killed in Auschwitz.
This new BLO production is a testament to the power and legacy of their work. This new production of The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, was in a few words brilliant, witty, and breathtaking. But, when it comes down to it, I cannot really describe the experience, how empowering or unique it was. There was comedy, drama, love, and sweet bliss and relief.
The rundown:
Singers – Every single singer/actor was brilliant. Bravo and brava to all!  Notables…

o       Kevin Burdette was, as put by fellow cast member John Mac Master, the “Jim Carrey of Opera Theater”. Funny, frightening, and awe-inspiring, Mr. Burdette was truly a presence to be reckoned with in this production. As Death/Loudspeaker, he really set the tone at times to how the audience should feel.

o       John Mac Master’s role as Harlequin very much reminded me of Pierrot, the sad clown of the comedia dell’arte stock. He played the role well, with a constant sarcastic twist on his humor. However, there is one eerie “It” moment, when he sings a lullaby, which in the context of the doom and gloom just gives one the chills.

o       Jamie Van Eyck…purely charming. She was commanding as the Drummer, boldly following Emperor Overall. Her character could inspire a mass, convincing anyone to do anything she wanted. Much like Death, her sharp, prcise marches ruled the stage. She was the eyes, ears, and arm of the Emperor, and Van Eyck made it clear in her bold and precise performance

The setting – Confused…in a creepy-good way. From the moment you entered the theater, the experience was in motion. Ushers (who were actually supernumeraries to the show), never ceased in repeating this marvelous line: “Welcome to our performance. We are sorry, but our venue is under repar. What is your name?” If that didn’t unsettle you, walk into the theater. It felt like walking into a body bag. The entire room was “under repair”, covered in plastic sheeting, dangling wires, and it seemed to be emitting strange noises from everywhere.

He would have loved it...

The sets were also very “improv”, made out of various parts and pieces of junk or “stuff”. Also, nothing was hidden. There were no blackouts for scene changes. It was all left for you to watch.

Honestly, I could tell you everything about this opera, but it just wouldn’t do the production justice. At the core of the opera was this: the message of tyranny, murder, deceit, humanity, and escape from pain. Imagine a the torture of pain, of not being able to die! How terrible it is that someone could feel so much pain, that death is the only way out, but it is not there! This was the reality for some of the Jewish people held in concentration death. By the end of the opera, Death says it the best. “I do not bring pain…only relief from pain.” That moment, when Death takes back his job, is the most haunting moment. To see Death in action is actually beautiful. It is freedom.
This production will have life. If you ever see this BLO production being put up at Boston Lyric Opera again, or else where, please see it. It will certainly change you (ESPECIALLY if you have not seen opera). 

Don’t miss out on another “shoulda been there moment”.

Jessica Trainor, Boston College

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