BWW Review: In Series Ends Season with THE EMPEROR OF ATLANTIS
"Holocaust Opera" is probably not the most inviting description for the season ending offering for the In Series.
But the new adaptation of Viktor Ullmann's largely unheard "The Emperor of Atlantis" is being promoted as such.
It was written and rehearsed in the "model" Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, Theresienstadt, set off to show off its cultural output. But his "Der Kaiser von Atlantis" though composted and rehearsed there, was prevented from being performed at the camp because of its libretto by Peter Kien of a strongman leader and its dalliance with a personified Death was too obvious an allegory and scathing criticism of the Nazi regime.
One could see how that was possible from the new adaptation by Nick Olcott, whose many winks and easy jabs at the current U.S. administration, including a whole litany of its catch phrases, from the leader and from a press secretary-like Drum Major, make overly obvious what might have been more effective in a more nuanced approach.
Any production with a jester and a be-robed death carrying a scythe is going to be heavy on the allegory (and there is always the question of playing the darkest aspects of the Nazi world in a comic way), but with the modernist phrases like "fake news" further flashed on the SuperTitles at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, it can get to be too much.
Like most everything at the In Series, though, the production reflected how much can be brought out of a small ensemble, starting with Ullman's revived score performed by a 14 piece orchestra conducted by musical director Stanley Thurston.
The cast full of strong and ringing voices including Andrew Thomas Padrini as the Emperor and Andrew Adelsberger at his service as Death, who can't quite keep up with the ordered number of those killed, and the work's subtitle indicates, "Death Goes on Strike."
Louisa Waycott is striking as The Drum Major, beating out her version of fair and balanced. Adam Caughey cavorted as the Harlequin (costumes by Donna Breslin). And Randa Rouweyha and Samual Keeler are a couple who get caught up in the madness. One of the most notable voices came hidden, sitting among the orchestra, as bass baritone embodied The Voice of the Loudspeaker.
"The Emperor of Atlantis" is helped by being only one act, and the entire evening is balanced by a work reflecting the previous world war, an adaptation of Igor Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale."
Here the story is streamlined and the music even more so: The complex score by Stravinsky is performed by violin, clarinet and piano, the latter played by musical director Frank Conlin.
The adaptation by Jaime Coronado and Rick Davis that revives the subtitle "A piece to be read, played and danced," plays a bit like a ballet, though the set is scattered with many obstacles. Ashley Ivey is imposing as the narrator of the tale, performed by Dimitri Gann as the soldier and Rosalynd Harris as a number of roles including a tempting devil.
While it can be challenging and admirable to find and mount such works, it always seems to end up that the devil gets a lot of work.
One thing missing from opening night of the two works was any acknowledgement of the work of Carla Hübner, the artistic director and executive producer who is stepping down with this production after founding the company in 1982 and shepherding it ever since.
Running time: 95 minutes, with one intermission.
Photo credit: Andrew Thomas Pardini as "The Emperor of Atlantis." Photo by Angelisa Gillyard
"The Emperor of Atlantis" and "The Soldier's Tale" continue through June 24 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE. Tickets at 202-399-7993 or online.