Performed in the former engine rooms of the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach.
Orchestral Chamber version by Andreas Mitisek
Long Beach Opera has a long history of audacious, innovative programming, but its latest pairing, Viktor Ullmann's "The Emperor of Atlantis" and Carl Orff's "The Clever One," comes close to going off the charts.
Both works were composed in 1943 and share the common themes of dictatorship and ruthless repression. But the similarities end there. "Emperor" is a dark, complex political allegory, composed in the Nazi German "showcase" concentration camp of Theresienstadt (Terezin). The second is a comic Grimm's fairy tale, written by the ever-popular Orff (think "Carmina Burana") who never joined the Nazi Party but who benefited during its regime.
The shock of juxtaposing these works, seen Friday in the Ship Hull of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, lingered long after the performance. –– LA Times
The Emperor of Atlantis (Der Kaiser von Atlantis) and The Clever One (Die Kluge) are two satires about oppression and dictatorship. Both works date from 1943, but they were composed in different worlds; one in the concentration camp of Terezin; the other in Frankfurt, Germany.
Viktor Ullmann’s breathtaking satire on fascism was written in the Terezin concentration camp in 1943. Set in Atlantis, where Emperor Overall advocates total war against all, even Death wishes to retire from his duties. The score is full of ironic brilliance, humor, poignancy, and an intriguing code language of musical quotations from blues to "Deutschland ueber Alles" in the style of a Bach chorale.
Carl Orff, best known for his Carmina Burana, tells the tale of a foolish, tyrannical king being bested by a clever woman, a folk tale common to many cultures. Orff’s version from 1943 delivers passages critical of dictatorship, creating a “world theater” that is both timeless and universal.
Multi-gifted Mitisek, able to pull both directing and conducting out of his basket of tricks, directs the two with ample injections of commedia dell’arte, vaudeville and burlesque. Pantomime, dumb show, mask and puppetry are employed, along with speaking and choral speaking so compositionally integrated that they could have been germane, or have been borrowed by any number of performance traditions. These ample resources do much to lighten the load of an evening that includes the character of Death, imprisoned peasants, and blatantly celebrated misogyny.
The production itself was a poor-theater delight, with minimal props and costumes (by Ivy Y. Chou) and unwinding sheets of poster paper serving as a witty backdrop. In an ideal world, Long Beach Opera wouldn't have to operate as a poor theater. But at least Mitisek knows how to create magic with minimal means. It boggles the mind to consider what he might do with a decent budget.
"The Emperor of Atlantis"/"The Clever One" ★★★½ Mitisek's production design makes effective use of staircases at the stage sides, a raised central platform and stark, sometimes garish lighting and costumes ranging from cabaret-style get-ups in "Atlantis" to vaudeville-type attire in "The Clever One."
Andreas Mitisek, the company's multi-hyphenated leader (conductor, director and designer for this production), staged an extraordinarily well-matched pair of operas and gave them powerful readings.
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Costume Design: Ivy Chou
Choreographer: Tanya Kane-Parry
The Clever One: Suzan Hanson
King: Roberto Perlas Gomez
Donkey Man: Doug Jones
Peasant: Dean Elzinga
First Vagabond: Timur Bekbosunov
Second Vagabond: Benito Galindo
Third Vagabond: Jesse Merlin
Mule Man: Andrew Fernando
Jailer: Mark Bringelson
Director/Prodution Design: Andreas Mitisek
Conductor: Francesco Milioto
Lighting Design: Andrew Meyers
Video & Puppet Design: Sean T. Cawelti
The Clever One: Emily Birsan
The King: Andrew Wilkowske
The Donkeyman: Bernard Holcomb,
The Peasant: David Govertsen
First Vagabond: William Dwyer
Second Vagabond: Matthan Ring Black
Third Vagabond: Paul Corona
The Muleman: Christopher Remmel
The Jailer: Neil Edwards