back Content Of all places it was in the hell of Theresienstadt concentration camp that Viktor Ullmann would find his unmistakable voice as a composer. The marches of his childhood as the son of a high-ranking officer in the Austro-Hungarian empire, the teachings of his mentors Arnold Schönberg and Alexander von Zemlinsky, the jazz-flavoured popular music of his time, and his love of the formal rigour of Johann Sebastian Bach – in his opera ‘Der Kaiser von Atlantis’ Ullmann elegantly combines all these biographical influences into a lively mix of styles rich in echoes and associations.
The parable of death’s refusal to work, no longer willing to be exploited as Emperor Overall’s murderous henchman, was developed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943/44. Its message of resistance against injustice and oppression is equally applicable today, as the recent winner of the 11th European Opera Directing Prize, the director Ilaria Lanzino highlights in her vivid production. Synopsis Faced by the mechanised death on an industrial scale presided over by Emperor Overall of Atlantis, Harlequin and Death – “life that can no longer laugh and death that can no longer cry” – are reduced to observers of a world “which has forgotten how to delight in life and die of death.” When Overall declares a war of everyone against everyone, Death feels that he has been robbed of all dignity and refuses to serve the Emperor any longer.
When Death loses its horror, life goes off the rails. What power does a murderous despot have if no one in his empire can die any more? Executions cannot be carried out, soldiers prove unable to kill each other. Soon the entire country is overcome with bitter protests by the living dead against the immortality that has been imposed on them. Death offers to end his strike, if the Emperor agrees to make a sacrifice “as the first to suffer this new death.” Overall says his farewells and follows Death. Further Recommendations