Andreas Mitisek, General Director

Viktor Ullmann/Carl Orff
The Emperor of Atlantis/
The Clever One

About the Opera

 

★★★½ - Chicago Tribune

"...a musical revelation" - Chicago Sun Times

"Not to be missed" - Splash Magazine


The Emperor of Atlantis (Der Kaiser von Atlantis) and The Clever One (Die Kluge) are two satires about oppression and dictatorship. Both operas were composed in 1943 but in different worlds: Ullman's work in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt (Terezin), and Orff's opera in Frankfurt, Germany. The historical tension between these two works is obvious. On one side is Ullmann, who vanished during the Third Reich; on the other side Orff, whose Carmina Burana is performed every day somewhere on this planet, and who paid lip service to the Nazis in the same manner as Strauss.

The Emperor of Atlantis

In Terezin, during the summer of 1943, Viktor Ullmann and Petr Kien began collaborating on what was to later emerge as a signature masterpiece of Terezin's musical scene. At the time it was also one of the most controversial. Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis, subtitled Death Abdicates), dared to satirize the political situation of WWII while delivering timeless messages of the power of life and death. Kien, a talented young artist and poet, penned the libretto while veteran composer Ullmann scored the music. From the edited appearance of surviving manuscripts, it seems some aspects of the political allegory were too hot for the "Freizeitgestaltung" to handle. After adequate libretto adjustments were made to appease the Jewish cultural heads, the rehearsal process began in earnest. During a final rehearsal in September of 1944, SS officers happened by the scene and were outraged at what they heard. Any further continuance of the opera's performance was swiftly halted and Der Kaiser von Atlantis was immediately banned. Furthermore, the entire cast, orchestra, Ullmann, Kien, and their families were promptly shipped in a transport to Auschwitz. Only the composition and the singers survived.

 The Clever One

Subtitled "the story of the King and the clever woman", Orff's The Clever One (Die Kluge) has its origins in the tale of a shrewd peasant daughter. Familiar to many different countries, the story comes to us in a variety of guises. Orff based his libretto on the Grimm's Fairy Tales. It premiered in Frankfurt on February 18, 1943. The Clever One is not a fairytale opera in the usual sense: the plot is entirely lacking in supernatural or illogical elements. It shares its farcical ingredients with the old Shrovetide plays, most notably the raw comedy of the vagabonds, the man with the donkey and the man with the mule, and the satirical treatment of the various estates. Structured along the lines of Brecht's didactic plays - sometimes employing a rather antiquated directness, sometimes indulging in cryptic double entendres, but always with pointed poetic wit-this musical comedy resembling a street ballad subsists on the most threadbare of plots. Perhaps that is what prompted Orff to fill out the original material with three vagabonds whose macabre philosophies are presented with an irresistible charm combining Shakespearean wit with the cunning of a traditional German country tale. Worlds apart as they may be, these are two levels of European language and thought which have become established as keys to success in the theatrical context.

Synopsis

The Emperor of Atlantis

"So what are we to drink now? Blood is what we drink now. And what are we to kiss now? The devil's backside!"

The characters are introduced. Harlequin and Death comment ruefully on how the passing of days is hardly noticeable anymore in such a grim environment. In an aria, Death laments how his function no longer commands the same respect it once had. The Drummer then steps forth to deliver a new mandate from Emperor Überall, declaring “each against each other, no survivors!” Death hears this decree and is outraged at the Emperor’s presumptuous nature. He declares an official strike, warning that the future of mankind will not only be great, but long, and breaks his sword upon the ground.

The Emperor monitors the progress of his war. Death’s scheme is discovered when word is received of a hanged man who has not died after eighty minutes, even after being shot. Überall quickly demands a propaganda campaign in which the situation is spun as the gift of eternal life to his subjects. A Soldier and Bubikopf, a girl from the opposite enemy camp, fight, but when Death cannot separate them, their thoughts turn to love. In the final act, the frantic Emperor continues to oversee from afar his crumbling kingdom, where the desperate population rebels against the torturous limbo between life and death. Childhood memories in the form of the Drummer and Harlequin haunt him. Finally, Death offers an ultimatum to the Emperor. Überall finally complies, and the mercy of death once again falls upon the suffering people.

The Clever One

Fides is as good as dead. Justitia goes in mortal dread. Pietas lies in the straw. Patientia loser in the strife. Veritas vanished in the sky. Honor, faithfulness and love, good bye!

Tyrannis wallows in excess, Invidia good for a win. Caritas stripped to the skin. Virtue is a vain endeavour. 

If only he had believed his wise daughter! This is what the peasant realizes too late after he gives his King a golden mortar as a present and is promptly imprisoned for theft because the pestle is missing. The King summons the peasant's daughter to his court and tests her wisdom with three riddles, which she answers correctly. Defeated but impressed by her cleverness, the King marries her. But when the peasant's daughter draws attention to another of his foolish judgments she is ordered to leave the court and told to take with her a single chest containing those things which she holds most dear. She complies and prepares a final dinner. When the King awakes the next morning from a sleeping drought-induced slumber, he finds himself in a very different place.

About the Composer

Viktor Ullmann

(1898 – 1944) Throughout the span of Ullmann’s career he was a
composer, pianist, choirmaster, conductor and music critic. He was born on
January 1, 1898 in Tesin, where he also began his studies. From 1914 onwards Ullmann lived in Vienna. He finished his secondary school studies there and between 1918 and 1919 he worked for several months in Schoenberg’s composition classes. From 1920 until 1927 Ullmann was one of Alexander Zemlinsky’s assistants in the New German Theatre in Prague (now the State Opera of Prague). Artistic collaboration and longtime personal friendship with Zemlinsky provided Ullmann with a wealth of personal and artistic experiences to draw on in the future. He took advantage of this in the following 1927-28 season, when he was appointed head of the opera company in Usti nad Labem. Together with both local and invited artists, Ullmann managed to stage a truly impressive repertoire, which included operas by Richard Strauss, Krenek and others.

At the turn of the 1920s he became involved in the anthroposophic movement. His newfound interests took him to Zurich and later to Stuttgart. He was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and returned to Prague, where he embarked on the uneasy road of a freelance musician. He worked with the department of music in Czechoslovak Radio, wrote book and music reviews for various magazines, wrote as a critic for the Prague-based Bohemia newspaper, lectured to educational groups, gave private lessons and was actively involved in the Czechoslovak Society for Music Education. At about that time Ullmann became friends with the composer Alois Haba. Ullmann enrolled in Haba’s department of quartertone music at Prague’s Conservatoire of Music and studied there for two years (1935-1937).

In the years preceding the Second World War, Viktor Ullmann was a leading figure among his Czech and German friends: he gave private music performances, chamber concerts and hosted parties where he played various gramophone records. On September 8, 1942, Viktor Ullmann was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. Even in the extremely difficult conditions of a Nazi concentration camp, he succeeded in maintaining his artistic activity. Together with Karel Ancerl, Rafael Schachter, Gideon Klein, Hans Krasa and others, he wrote a glorious chapter in the camp’s cultural life. Ullmann was later deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where he died in a gas chamber, probably on October 15, 1944.

Only part of Viktor Ullmann’s work is believed to have been discovered. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Ullmann wrote some forty works: mostly orchestral, chamber and piano compositions, as well as two operas. His literary works, along with approximately twenty fragments of the almost-finished or complete compositions written in Theresienstadt have also been preserved. Since the late 1970s, Ullmann’s music has been experiencing revived interest. His opera from Theresienstadt, written on a libretto by Peter Kien and called Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis) op. 49, has been staged several times since then, as have Ullmann’s piano sonatas, his Theresienstadt string quartet, and songs. In stylistic terms, Ullmann’s early compositions bear traces of Schoenberg’s influences; his works from the 1930s are polytonal in the classical formal framework, while Mahlerian inspiration is discernible in Ullmann’s remarkable songs.
David Bloch 

Carl Orff

(1895-1982) Orff was born in Munich on July 10, 1895. He studied at the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. He then served in the military during World War I. Afterwards, he held various positions at opera houses in Mannheim and Darmstadt, and later returned to Munich to further pursue his studies in music.

As of 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich, where he worked with musical beginners. This constant contact with children inspired him to develop his theories in music education.

Orff's association with the Nazi party has been alleged, but never conclusively established. His Carmina Burana was hugely popular in Nazi Germany after its premiere in Frankfurt in 1937.

Orff was a personal friend of Kurt Huber, one of the founders of the resistance movement Die Weiße Rose (the White Rose), who was condemned to death by the Volksgerichtshof and executed by the Nazis in 1943. After World War II, Orff claimed that he was a member of the group, and was himself involved in the resistance. However, there was no evidence for this other than his own word, and other sources dispute his claim. Canadian historian Michael H. Kater made in earlier writings a particularly strong case that Orff collaborated with Nazi authorities, but in his most recent publication “Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits” (2000) Kater has retracted his earlier accusations to some extent. Orff’s assertion that he had been anti-Nazi during the war was accepted by the American de-nazification authorities, who changed his previous category of “gray unacceptable” to “gray acceptable.” This enabled him to continue to compose for public presentation.

Orff is most known for Carmina Burana (1937), a “scenic cantata.” It is the first of a trilogy that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. Carmina Burana reflected his interest in medieval German poetry. Together the trilogy is called Trionfi, or “triumphs.” The composer described it as the celebration of the triumph of the human spirit through sexual and holistic balance. The work was based on thirteenth-century poetry found in a manuscript dubbed the Codex latinus monacensis found in a Bavarian monastery in 1803 and written by the Goliards; this collection is also known as Carmina Burana. While “modern” in some of his compositional  techniques, Orff was able to capture the spirit of the medieval period in this trilogy, with infectious rhythms and easy tonalities. The medieval poems, written in an early form of German and Latin, are often racy, but do not descend into smut.

Orff’s last work, De Temporum Fine Comoedia (“A Play of the End of Time”), had its premiere at the Salzburg Music Festival on August 20, 1973, performed by Herbert von Karajan and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In this highly personal work, Orff presented a mystery play in which he summarized his view on the end of time, sung in Greek, German, and Latin.
Erik Levi 

 

Cast

The Emperor of Atlantis
(In order of vocal appearance)

Paul Corona, Loudspeaker #1
Neil Edwards, Loudspeaker #2 
Bernard Holcomb, Harlequin
David Govertsen, Death
Cassidy Smith, The Drummer
Andrew Wilkowkse, Emperor Uberall
William Dwyer, Soldier
Emily Birsan, Bubikopf

The Clever One
(In order of vocal appearance)

David Govertsen, The Peasant
Andrew Wilkowske, The King
Neil Edwards, The Jailer
William Dwyer, First Vagabond
Matthan Ring Black, Second Vagabond
Paul Corona, Third Vagabond
Emily Birsan, The Clever One
Christopher Remmel, The Muleman
Bernard Holcomb, The Donkeyman  

 

Francesco Milioto

Conductor

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Mr. Milioto made his COT debut in 2013 with Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco, for which his conducting and his own New Millennium Orchestra received critical acclaim. Immediately following his work with COT, he joined the staff at Lyric Opera of Chicago as cover conductor for Verdi’s La Traviata, and will return to LOC for both Capriccio and Tosca in the 2014-15 season. Having recently returned from conducting Verdi's Falstaff with Opera Santa Barbara, Mr. Milioto also led the inaugural Emilio del Rosario International Piano Competition at Symphony Center. Last month as Artistic Director of Access Contemporary Music he conducted a successful ninth edition of the ever popular Sound of Silent Film series here in Chicago, and on tour in Austin, TX. Mr. Milioto currently holds the positions of Co-founder/Conductor of the New Millennium Orchestra, Music Director of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the Highland Park Strings, and Artistic Director/Conductor of Access Contemporary Music. He is particularly proud of his work with the New Millennium Orchestra, which he co-founded in 2005.  The NMO has an incredible range of repertoire, playing everything from classical music and opera to collaborations with jazz and hip-hop artists. Mr. Milioto led the Highland Park Strings in their 35th anniversary season with highlights including several masterworks of Mozart, Brahms, Wagner, and Schubert. The Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra has also just wrapped up their season that included a "puppet" Peter and the Wolf, a sing along, over 100 musicians sharing a stage in celebration of Verdi! www.francescomilioto.com

Andreas Mitisek

Director

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Mr. Mitisek has been the General Director of Chicago Opera Theater since June of 2012. He has also been Artistic and General Director of Long Beach Opera (LBO) since 2003. A native of Austria, he served as Artistic and music Director of the Wiener Operntheater from 1990 – 1997, the foremost contemporary opera company in Austria. Mr. Mitisek has conducted at the Wiener Volksoper, the Komische Oper in Berlin, the festival “Wien Modern”, the Wiener Konzerthaus and Musikverein, and others.  He is also sought after as a guest conductor in North America, leading productions for the Seattle Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Vancouver Ope4ra, Austin Lyric Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, amongst other. His work as director and designer for site-specific productions in parking garages, swimming pools, night clubs, and warehouses has become a successful hall mark of his work with LBO, and his first such production with COT, Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice, was critically and publicly acclaimed. He is dedicated to attracting new audiences to COT by exploring unorthodox venues and presenting new and rare works (a key attribute of his leadership at LBO). Mitisek is on the board of directors for OPERA AMERICA, the national service organization for US opera companies. Mitisek has been named by Opera News as one of the 25 people that will be a major force in the field of opera in the coming decade. Mitisek was featured as a LA Tastemaker by LA Times Magazine in 2009, Arts Leader of the Year by the Long Beach Arts Council in 2009, and was highlighted as one of the “2012 People” by LA Weekly. Recent COT credits include: conductor, stage director and production designer, Maria de Buenos Aires; director and production designer, Orpheus and Euridice; conductor, The Fall of the House of Usher.

Andrew Meyers

Lighting Designer

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Mr. Meyers work in Chicago has been seen at Apple Tree Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Rep, Drury Lane Evergreen Park, Light Opera Works (Resident Designer), Irish Repertory Theatre, L'Opera Piccola, Northwestern University Opera, Pegasus Players, Redmoon, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens and many others. Nationally, he is a frequent designer for Next Act Theatre (Milwaukee), the Broward Stagedoor Theatre (Florida), Ballet Memphis and Virginia Musical Theatre, and has lit shows for the Skylight Opera Theatre and the Repertory Theatres of Arkansas, Madison, and Milwaukee. He lights corporate events, fashion shows and trade shows all over North America, and designed tours for the Richard Thompson Band.

Sean T. Cawelti

Video & Puppet Designer

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Mr. Cawelti graduated from the University of California Irvine with his BA in Drama with honors in Directing and studied puppetry at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Sean has won awards for his work as a designer, director and playwright, honored with a UNIMA Citation of Excellence for Gogol Project and was a 2013 finalist for Center Theater Group’s Sherwood Award as a director. He was selected by the City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Affairs Department to travel to Brazil for two months to study woodcarving and Candomblé, a religion born of African and Catholic traditions.  Sean is the founding Artistic Director of Rogue Artists Ensemble a multi-media, puppet and mask company in Los Angeles. His directing work has been seen at the Getty Villa, South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, The Geffen Playhouse and the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. He has designed puppets, masks, props and video for theater, music videos, museums, concerts and arena shows including the recent Kanye West Yeezus world tour. More info – www.seancawelti.com

Chicago Opera Theater

Andreas Mitisek, General Director
70 E. Lake Street Suite 415
Chicago, IL 60601
Box Office: 312.704.8414
Administrative: 312.704.8420
E-mail: info@chicagooperatheater.org

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