In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

'The Emperor of Atlantis' - Confusing. Intriguing. Ullmann

Feb 15, 2011 6:55:00 AM
By BLO Staff

Wednesday, February 2, I had the opportunity to see The Emperor of Atlantis by Viktor Ullmann in the Boston Lyric Opera’s
latest production. 
When I
first entered the theater, it was quite confusing.  There were ushers (or who you thought were
ushers) standing there, just talking. 
They were saying things such as, “We are sorry, but our theater is under
renovation.”  Certainly, the theater DID
look like it was under construction when one entered.  Perhaps the scariest thing the ushers did (and
the spookiest, I would say) was asking everyone what their name was.  On the surface, that is not out of the
ordinary.  It was the way the ushers said
it, however, that made you question their motives and made you feel very
theater itself was covered in work lights and sheets of plastic.  The stage was full of plastic and work lights
as well as some additional scaffolding. 
For the first opera, the world premiere of The After Image by Richard Beaudoin, the stage was in all black,
with only a chamber orchestra consisting of a Clarinet, Violin, Piano, and
Cello and two singers onstage (Jamie van Eyck and Kevin Burdette).  It is the same instrumentation of Olivier
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time,
an obvious piece to look back to Although The After-Image was an interesting piece, to my ears, it did not
make aural sense.  The only reason I knew
what was going on was because of the action onstage.  It did set the mood for the Ullmann, so in
that regard it was successful.  It will
be interesting to see how, in the future, BLO utilizes new music in their
productions.  Hopefully, they continue to
commission new works. 
highlight of the evening was the Ullmann. 
It was fantastically conceived and implemented.  Even the transition from The After Image was built into the opera, as there was no
intermission.  The Nazi influence was
certainly present, with Emperor Überall (Andrew Wilkowske) a cross between
Napoleon and Hitler, as was the German singspiel element.  The director, David Schweizer, plays up the
irony of the entire production with over-the-top props to ridiculous
costumes.  It makes the elements of the story
that are really biting very poignant. 
The duet between the soldier girl (Kathryn Skemp) and the soldier
(Julius Ahn) were very moving.   The
drummer (Jamie van Eyck) was equally impressive in her commanding role. 
people who stole the show, however, were death/loudspeaker (Kevin Burdette) and
Harlequin (John Mac Master).  Death was
funny at times, serious at times, but always set the tone.  He was commanding even in his outrageous
costume, complete with bright red lipstick. 
In his exoteric role, he was the center of the truth of the opera.  Harlequin was the companion to death and the
only person who was an actual comedic figure. 
He was dressed in such a way as to remind you of Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. 
This was very important in how John Mac Master played the role, which he
did to great success. 
At its
core, The Emperor of Atlantis is
about tyranny, oppression, murder, deceit, hope, and humanity.  All of these emotions were conveyed
onstage.  It was an extremely powerful
production.  I wish I had time to see it

- Rob Tedesco, University of Auckland

Topics: Opera Annex, Student Posts, The Emperor of Atlantis

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