Performed in the former engine rooms of the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach.
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.
COT stages two political satires crafted under Nazis Mitisek's Brechtian staging imagines the piece as enacted by a troupe of traveling players living out of suitcases (a prop that also figures prominently in "The Clever One"). The so-called Loudspeakers (Paul Corona and Neil Edwards, both of whom deliver the English translation crisply) jot down intelligence data about the audience in red notebooks, and two Auschwitz-style bunk beds tie the action further to the Nazi era.
"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."
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.
Mitisek is a sort of genius actually – in this case (1) designing a set which is here and there made up of little more than bunk beds, assorted props, paper scrolls, ink markers and silhouette projections; (2) stage directing the actors all over every conceivable available space; (3) adapting the orchestration and other elements of the works themselves to fit his needs; and (4) conducting the orchestra and singers. He could probably take the Queen Mary out to sea if he wanted to. He’s also charming.
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.
Director/Prodution Design: Andreas Mitisek
Conductor: Andreas Mitisek
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Costume Design: Ivy Chou
Choreographer: Tanya Kane-Parry
Emperor Überall: Roberto Perlas Gomez
Loudspeaker 1: Jesse Merlin
Loudspeaker 2: Mark Bringelson
Death: Dean Elzinga
Harlequin: Doug Jones
The Drummer: Peabody Southwell
A Soldier: Timur Bekbosunov
Bubikopf: Suzan Hanson
Director/Prodution Design: Andreas Mitisek
Conductor: Francesco Milioto
Lighting Design: Andrew Meyers
Video & Puppet Design: Sean T. Cawelti
Emperor Überall:Andrew Wilkowske
Loudspeaker 1: Paul Corona
Loudspeaker 2: Neil Edwards
Harlequin: Bernard Holcomb,
Death: David Govertsen
The Drummer: Cassidy Smith
Soldier: William Dwyer
Bubikopf: Emily Birsan