Two operas that have their origins in the Nazi concentration camps and have new and urgent significance for the 21st Century. Discovered and restored in the 1990s, it is time for a new generation to show how these visionary works about tyranny have a deeply necessary and humane message for a world in which history is ominously repeating itself.
Brundibar by Hans Krasa and The Emperor of Atlantis by Viktor Ullman share the central theme of tyranny: How it renders its victims voiceless, yet contains the seeds of its own destruction and can be defeated by giving a voice to the voiceless, culminating in collective action.
The Jewish intellectual elite of Prague – writers, artists, musicians and composers – were sent to Terezin. Within months, a library was created from smuggled books, a school was founded, plays, cabaret and operas were performed. Artists recorded the life around them. Composers wrote music for the ever-growing community. These two operas show how the work created there was remarkable not just in its quality, but for the way it became a form of artistic resistance that gave hope and strength to thousands of camp inmates.
Tragically, Krasa, Ullman, their librettists, most of the children, singers and musicians were sent to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers. But the manuscripts survived and were later pieced together.
The 1990s Production
John Abulafia, then artistic director of Mecklenburg Opera played an important part in restoring these two masterpieces and giving them their first professional production.
Abulafia wrote the English performing version of Brundibar. He also commissioned the English translation of the restored Emperor of Atlantis. Working with a musicologist and conductor to piece together and restore the original score.
Directed for the stage by Abulafia, the first UK professional productions of both operas premiered at London’s South Bank Centre. The BBC then screened the production of Brundibar on VE Day 1995. Scenes from Abulafia’s production of The Emperor of Atlantis were featured in the BBC documentary The Music of Terezin.
The 21st Century Production
After Eden’s new productions and education projects will be directed by Laura Attridge and designed by Isa Shaw-Abulafia. They will offer a fresh, dynamic take on these ever hauntingly relevant operas, which are a potent mix of popular theatre and beautiful, eloquent music. They are angry and subversive works with a strong streak of fantasy, wit and tenderness. In performance, they go straight to the heart.