Ullmann: Der Kaiser von Atlantis / Eröd, Hahn, Munich Radio Orchestra
Viktor Ullmann's one-act chamber opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis [The Emperor of Atlantis] was written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and did not see its premiere until December 16, 1975 in Amsterdam, since the performance was banned after its dress rehearsal in 1944. The concert performance of the version by Henning Brauel and Andreas Krause (Schott), which took place on October 10, 2021 at the Prince Regent's Theatre in Munich, was recorded for this CD. Alongside the internationally renowned Austrian Kammersänger Adrian Eröd in the title role, mainly young performers sang, accompanied by the Munich Radio Choir conducted by Patrick Hahn, who made his debut here as the orchestra's principal guest conductor.
Viktor Ullmann, born in 1898 in Teschen, Silesia, studied with Arnold Schönberg and Alois Hába in Vienna. He worked first as a bandmaster and then as a bookseller, and settled in Prague as a freelance artist in 1933. Because he came from a Jewish family, he was deported to the Theresienstadt camp by the Nazis in 1942. In October 1944 he was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, together with composers Pavel Haas and Hans Krása, who were almost the same age. Since the Nazis allowed a lively cultural life in their "showcase camp" of Theresienstadt, Ullmann was also able to be musically active. The intellectual and cultural heritage of that time is reflected in his music – also, and especially, in the "one-act play" that he wrote there entitled “Der Kaiser von Atlantis oder Die Tod-Verweigerung" (The Emperor of Atlantis or the Disobedience of Death), based on a libretto by his fellow prisoner Peter Kien.
The confident conducting of the young Austrian Patrick Hahn stands out for a fascinating transparency, as well as an accentuated lightness, which makes the voices all the more haunting. In addition to the striking baritone of Adrian Eröd as the Emperor, the bass Tareq Nazmi is very convincing in the role of the striking Death. Highly expressive and with an impeccably managed mezzo voice, Christel Loetzsch is a most impressive drummer.
Singing very sensitively are tenor Johannes Chum as soldier Harlequin and bass Lars Woldt in the role of the speaker. The soprano Juliana Zara can also please as Bubikopf.
And so this is then a gripping interpretation of Ullmann’s opera, which pleases on the one hand by the refinement of the orchestral performance and on the other hand by excellent voices.
It is remarkable how calmly Patrick Hahn, permanent guest conductor of the Munich Radio Orchestra, with his highly concentrated soloists in the Prinzregententheater, keeps a balance between existential commitment and a certain lightness, which the piece also requires.
The lively soprano Juliana Zara brings a ray of hope...Christel Loetzsch, as the drummer, gives the best impression of the theatrical potency of the piece: she announces total war in a mezzo whose timbral beauty extends to all registers of the role's enormous scope.
--Munich Evening Times
This is the version of Viktor Ullmann’s opera, recorded live in October, 2021 in Munich, that features an expanded instrumental score...this [version], edited by Henning Brauel, while retaining much of the instrumental ensemble’s theatre/cabaret aspects, has an overall more polished, softening of the edges quality, thanks to a richer, fuller string sound (helped also by the warm recording ambience).
[The] singers here are all excellent, and the orchestra, members of the Munich Radio Orchestra, is equally, expectedly fine...the notes also include a fascinating discussion...of the many musical and cultural references in the libretto and in the music.
The Emperor of Atlantis has achieved a well-deserved reputation as one of the strongest works to have been composed by any of the several important composers who died in the Holocaust. Ullmann’s music is a heady mix of grim and playful, making allusions to hymn tunes and popular-music styles, with instrumental flourishes, propulsive rhythms, and sweet-sour harmonies that evoke, at times, such composers of his era as Hindemith, Weill, and Prokofiev but that, taken together, create a distinctive sound-world like no other.
This latest recording was made during an unstaged (or minimally staged) performance in front of an audience, and it is wonderful[.] The cast members all have steady and healthy-sounding (young?) voices. Often, indeed, they sing with astounding beauty of tone, which helped keep my ear glued to the proceedings, whereas I have sometimes felt that I was being shouted-at in my contacts with the work (on recordings and in live performance). The all-crucial words are rendered clearly and idiomatically by all concerned. I cannot resist praising Tareq Nazmi.
-- Artsfuse (Ralph P. Locke)
Release Date: April 15, 2022
Catalog Number: BRK900339
Label: BR Klassik
Number of Discs: 1
Period: 20th Century
Composer: Viktor Ullmann
Conductor: Patrick Hahn
Orchestra/Ensemble: Munich Radio Orchestra
Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Op. 49b
Composer: Viktor Ullmann
Ensemble: Munich Radio Orchestra
Performer: Juliana Zara, Christel Loetzsch, Lars Woldt, Adrian Eröd, Johannes Chum, Tareq Nazmi
Conductor: Patrick Hahn