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Published on Oct 3, 2009
"Der Kaiser von Atlantis", oder "Die Tod-Verweigerung" (The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death's Refusal) is an one-act opera by Viktor Ullmann with a libretto by Peter Kien.
Both Ullmann and Kien were inmates at the Nazi concentration camp of Terezín, where they collaborated on the opera, around the year 1943. While the opera received a rehearsal at Terezin in March 1944, it was never performed there, as the Nazi authorities saw in the depiction of Kaiser Overall a satire on Adolf Hitler and banned the opera. Both the composer and the librettist died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The opera did not receive its world premiere until December 16, 1975, at the Bellevue Centre, Amsterdam, performed by De Nederlandse Opera in an edition by Kerry Woodward, the conductor of that performance.
The Loudspeaker introduces the opera and indicates that he will act as the commentator on the opera's story.
Harlequin, who represents Life, and Death reflect that each of them has respectively lost meaning in the modern world. From the city of Atlantis, Emperor Overall has issued orders for perpetual war. The drummer girl tries to recruit Death into working with Emperor Overall's army. However, Death is so offended at the Emperor's grotesque conduct that it declines the offer, and breaks his sabre.
Kaiser Overall is giving battle orders by telephone from his palace. He then learns of the strange situation outside where many people are gravely injured, but people are unable to die.
A soldier and Bubikopf, a maiden from the opposing side in the battle, meet. However, they cannot kill each other, and fall in love. The drummer girl tries to co-opt the soldier back to combat away from Bubikopf, but the soldier refuses.
The Emperor continues to be absorbed in his military calculations. Death visits Overall, who notes that people have stopped dying. In turn, Death replies that he is not the cause of people's miseries, but the final refuge from them. Overall asks Death to resume his duties. Death agrees, but only if the Emperor agrees to be the first to die. Overall initially refuses, to which Death responds that he in turn will not resume his. Finally, the Emperor concedes, as this is the only hope for humanity, and sings his last farewell. The opera ends with a quartet, and the final moral message:
"Du sollst den großen Namen Tod nicht eitel beschwören" (Thou shalt not take the great name of Death in vain)
This video includes the biggest part of Scene 3.
Characters (in order of appearance): Ein Soldat (A Soldier) performed by Christos Stasinopoulos, tenor Bubikopf (the Girl with Bobbed Hair) performed by Artemis Bogri, soprano Der Trommler (The Drummer) performed by Margarita Syngeniotou, mezzosoprano