Monday, 22 October 2012

English Touring Opera at Exeter Northcott Theatre - Three Modern Operas - Three brief descriptions Performances: 'The Lighthouse': Weds 24 October , 'Albert Herring' Thurs 25 October (& Sat 27 October) and 'The Emperor of Atlantis': Fri 26 October 2012

Peter Maxwell Davies
Composer of 'The Lighthouse'
The Lighthouse
Peter Maxewell Davies, born 1934, a Lancashire man, returned to the UK from an Australian residency in the late sixties - to the Orkney islands. Famous for 'The Yellow Cake Review', protesting plans to mine uranium in the Orkneys. Eleanor Bron did the singing, but the instrumental interlude is the most famous part. 'Farewell to Stromness'.
The Lighthouse was composed in 1980, inspired by the discovery of an empty lighthouse at Eilean Mor in the Flannan Isles by a relief crew from Stromness. The opera opens with the three relieving officers describe the scene as they discovered it (to a court of enquiry). Then the scene changes to the three incumbents Arthur, Blazes, and Sandy. This speculative tale is relocated to the fictional lighthouse of 'Fladden' to avoid allusion to real people.

Benjamin Britten
composer of 'Albert Herring'
Albert Herring
Benjamin Britten, born 1913, Suffolk. Inspired by Frank Bridge's 'The Sea'. Composed 'A Boy was Born' for a cappella choir in 1934. became colaborator and life partner of tenor Peter Pears 1937 - and whote 'Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge'. Peter Grimes, 1945, was inspired by Crabbe's 'The Borough' and relocated in Britten's home town, Aldeburgh - also home of the Aldeburgh Festival at Snape Maltings, founded 1948 - by which time 'Albert Herring' had been running at Glyndebourne for a year.

Loxford, Suffolk, 1900. Lady Billows' May Day festival has been undermined by 'Florence' who has found fault with all the potential May Queens. Superintendent Budd suggests a May King - Albert Herring. Village children Sid and Nancy (yes, really) spike Albert's lemonade with rum at the acceptance speach. Drunkenly, Albert takes his prize money and leaves, never to return.

Now read on . . .

Viktor Ullman
Composer of 'The Emperor of Atlantis'
murdered Auschwitz 1944
The Emperor of Atlantis
Viktor Ulmann, born 1898, Teschen, Silesia. A german speaking Czech Jew - estranged from all three groups. After serving in the Great War, studied music with Arnold Schönberg in Vienna, later with Alexander von Zemlinsky in Prague. Moved to the music department of Czechoslovak Radio.  Enrolled in Alois Hába's 'Department of Quarter Tone Music' at the Prague Conservatory 1935. Developed the work of Schönberg and responded to Alban Berg's opera 'Wozzeck' with his own 'Fall of the Antichrist'. 13 of Ullmann's recorded 41 works survived the occupation of Prague by German forces in 1939.

Ullman was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto, Terezín. Although starved and badly treated, the victims were permitted to organise social events - for propaganda purposes. Ullmann was piano accompanist at concerts. His compositions from that time were preserved. 'The Emperor of Atlantis' (The Refusal of Death) was vetoed by the camp commandant, Karl Rahm, as a satire on the Third Reich. The manuscript was preserved by survivor Dr Emil Utiz and the opera was first performed by Netherlands Opera at the Bellevue Centre, Amsterdam in 1975.

Ullmann and his librettist Peter Kein were deported to Auschwitz on 16 October 1944. Kein died of disease shortly after arrival. Ullmann was murdered in a gas chamber at Birkenau on 18 October 1944.

'Der Kaiser von Atlantis'/'Die Tod-Verweigerun' opens with 'Death' chiding 'Harlequin' for his disaffection with life. Death himself has had his rôle usurped by 'Kaiser Overall' who has insisted that everyone fight to the death. Death 'goes on strike'. Overall, worried that many will survive his holocaust, proposes eternal life as inducement to die. 'Bubikopf' (bobbed hair) and a soldier fall in love and refuse to follow Drummer's call to battle. Meanwhile, Overall begs Death to resume his work as reaper.

The outcome for Overall is very prescient, and it is not surprising that Rahm saw a parallel with Hitler.

The score incorporates Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata 'Christ lag in Todes Banden' (Christ lay in death's bonds). written by a 22 year old Bach in 1707 as part of his application for the post of organist at Divi Blasii, Mühlhausen. Written for Easter, the cantata describes the conflict between life and death contrasting the soprano and alto voices. Each verse - 'Christ lay in death's bonds', 'No one could defeat death', 'Christ has come in our place' ('death has lost his sting'), 'It was a strange battle life and death waged', 'Here is the Easter lamb', 'We celebrate the high festival', 'We eat and live well', all end with a triumphant "Hallelujah!"

In addition to the cantata 'The Emperor of Atlantis' is preceded by a new composition by Helen Chadwick 'Towards an Unknown Port' which she wrote in response to the theme of the opera. 'Towards and Unknown Port' will be performed by a local choir.

Tickets: £18-31 with concessions, all performances
- book in advance with Northcott Box Office 01392 493493
or book online at Northcott Opera

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