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The American conductor James Conlon has been a leading light in the revival of the music of Ullmann and the Terezin composers. (It was Conlon's performance of The Emperor of Atlantis with singers and musicians from the Juilliard School at New York's Central Synagogue that inspired the Concert Association's Judy Drucker to produce this work in Miami.) Conlon conducted a brilliant, incisive, passionately felt performance that deftly underlined the satirical contradictions of Ullmann's scoring. The sheer emotional energy of Conlon's conducting was magnificent! (It has been too long since this gifted conductor has been heard in Miami.) The languid, stylish saxophone playing of Brian Scawa and the dynamic keyboard work of Miah Im (on harpsichord and piano) and Ciro Fodere (on harmonium) were standouts in an excellent, resourceful chamber ensemble of New World Symphony players.

James Conlon. Photo © Mark Lyons
James Conlon. Photo © Mark Lyons

Director Edward Berkeley's abstract staging was fluid and effective (in the Brecht manner). The opera's characters were clearly delineated -- the Emperor on a raised platform seemingly oblivious to the world and people around him. Berkeley's theatrical conceit was to dress the Emperor as Adolf Hitler and The Drummer Girl (his propagandist) as Eva Braun. This was an effective piece of dramaturgy but tended to distract from the allegorical symbolism of Ullmann and Kien's work. (In an effective coup de theatre, Berkeley had two actors costumed as SS Officers enter during Conlon's warmly romantic performance of the Sextet from Richard Strauss's opera Capriccio (which had its première at the Munich Opera in October 1942 around the same time Viktor Ullmann was arrested and interned at Terezin) and, at the music's conclusion, order Conlon to remove his tuxedo and put on a concentration camp uniform to conduct the Ullmann opera -- A chilling image!)

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Copyright © 16 January 2005 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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