The Emperor of Atlantis
Lars Woldt, Christel Loetzsch, Tareq Nazmi, Johannes Chum, Adrian Eröd, Juliana Zara; Munich Radio Orchestra/Patrick Hahn
BR Klassik 900339 52:53 mins
Viktor Ullmann’s 1943 opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis was composed in Theresienstadt (Terezín), a Czech ghetto used by the Nazi regime to imprison its victims. Despite the devastating conditions, Ullmann and others continued to make music using whatever resources were available – Der Kaiser von Atlantis is scored for a small ensemble that includes banjo and alto saxophone. The one-act, four-scene work is part parody, part wishful thinking: Death has gone on strike over a dispute with the Emperor Overall, who has declared war on a mythical kingdom. As horror ensues – the dying are unable to expire – the emperor eventually agrees to die in order to ensure Death’s return to work.
Ullmann – who was murdered in Auschwitz shortly after guards heard rehearsals of the Schoenbergian opera – passed on the score to another prisoner for safe-keeping. The piece is currently undergoing a revival: it was recently performed at the Barbican to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and also at the Prinzregententheater in Munich, where this excellent live recording was made. Members of the Munich Radio Orchestra are joined by a stellar cast; Johannes Chum contributes a Weill-inspired Harlequin; Tareq Nazim a dramatic Death. Lars Woldt is an ominous Loudspeaker (‘hallo, hallo’).