The Emperor of Atlantis/The Maids


CINCINNATI OPERA | 2004

THE EMPEROR OF ATLANTIS by Viktor Ullmann

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THE MAIDS by Peter Bengtson, based on the play by Jean Genet
US Premiere

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Conductor: Patrick Summers
Cast (Atlantis): B. Leerhuber, A. McHardy, N.A. Lundy, M. Pannuccio, A. Gangestad, T. Goerz
Cast (Maids): N. A. Lundy, A. McHardy, S. Novacek
Production: D. Lyne (scenery & clothes), T.C. Hase (lighting), J. Geier (hair/make-up)
photos courtesy of Philip Groshong

“…a startlingly innovative double bill. Muni chose to shift the Ullmann out of its historical context to a more modern world, suggesting the not-too-distant future. This was music theater of a very high order, challenging but unfailingly dramatic…a provocative staging of a very risky pairing.”
Wayne Gooding, OPERA CANADA (September, 2004)

“In searching for a work to make a double bill with Viktor Ullmann’s “The Emperor of Atlantis” (1943), the Cincinnati Opera came up with an important opera (The Maids)…the acerbic, modernist, highly theatrical music of Swedish composer Peter Bengtson proved a bracing contrast to the safe neo-romanticism of the typical new American opera. The larger stage, a darkened void scattered with lumber and other detritus, was the basic setting for “The Emperor of Atlantis”. Mr. Muni chose to stage the work without reference to the circumstances of its creation, so the blasted world could be anywhere, and the set-in box, which in this opera held the throne room of the Emperor (Brian Leerhuber) — connected to the outside only through the Loudspeaker (Thomas Goerz) and War (Allyson McHardy)– could be that of any modern-dress dictator anywhere. One clever staging technique emphasized the modernity of the setting: The Loudspeaker appeared as an anchorman-like image on an enormous video screen that covered the set-in box, dominating the stage with his news bulletins. When the throne room was revealed, his image (shot in real time with a backstage video camera) appeared on a monitor beside the throne. War, in workout gear and sporting two pistols, also loomed on the screen. In The Maids, designer Dany Lyne’s elegant, futuristic bathroom setting referenced high style of an earlier period with its Mies-like windowed walls, squared-off fixtures, and Le Corbusier-style chaise. The room reduced the playing area to an intimate, almost claustrophobic space, and the red evening dress and matching gloves of Claire’s masquerade were like splashes of blood. Nicholas Muni’s intelligent direction did not attempt to find reasons for the unreasonable acts in both operas, but left the audience to draw its own conclusions.”
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal (June, 2004)

“Since arriving at Cincinnati Opera in 1997, Muni has met his goals of producing contemporary stagings and expanding the company’s repertoire with great success. Some thought Muni had pushed the artistic envelope too far – but many in the audience recognized that this double bill was a shining achievement in production. As conceived and directed by Muni, both productions were scenically spectacular. Designer Dany Lyne set The Emperor of Atlantis in a ruin-strewn post-apocalyptic world almost destroyed by war. Suspended twenty feet above the ruins was a large, colorful, rectangular room, the solitary office of the Emperor of Atlantis. The Emperor communicated with the folk via a huge suspended media screen that broadcast totalitarian government propaganda with the Loudspeaker and the Drummer Girl (War) as official spokespersons. On matching black thrones on either side of the stage, Death (an old warrior dressed all in white) and Life (Harlekin, dressed as a clown, also all in white) commented on the action, descending to participate. For The Maids, the ruins remained, sans supers, but the Emperor’s office was now redecorated as an elegant bathroom, potently symbolic of the duality of filth and cleanliness inherent in the plot. Based on Jean Genet’s play, Les Bonnes, The Maids is a psychological thriller based on a brutal 1933 murder committed by a pair of crazed domestic servants, the Papin sisters, that occupies in the same place in French true-crime horror stories as that of Lizzie Borden in American folklore.”
- Charles Parsons, Opera News (October, 2004)

“Nicholas Muni’s Double Bill, The Emperor of Atlantis and The Maids, shocked, surprised, disturbed and ultimately gripped the Cincinnati Opera audience Thursday night in Music Hall. No doubt the avant-garde production, which included a moment of full frontal nudity, will inspire controversy. Yet it was an artistic coup for the company’s artistic director Muni, whose reputation for pushing boundaries reached a new apex in this bold, provocative production…an extraordinary evening of high drama. The audience was thrust into Muni’s futuristic setting for Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis before the opera began. A Brave New World-style news broadcast, dated June 24, 2015, beamed out mindless propaganda non-stop on a huge plasma screen. After intermission, Peter Bengtson’s The Maids, in its North American premiere, was positively chilling. It was Hitchcock meets Arnold Schoenberg. The psychological thriller opened with a video – Madame in bed with her lover, while a maid scrubbed the floor. The lush, post-romantic overture set the film-noir tone wonderfully. Instead of a bedroom, Muni’s concept was a clinical bathroom, where Claire – role-playing as Madame – was luxuriating in the tub. The acting was seamless with the music.”
Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Enquirer (June, 2004)

“Cincinnati Opera’s Summer Festival season has mounted a stunning double-bill production of two remarkable operas … Both stage director Muni and maestro (Patrick) Summers worked their powerful magic, making the evening a particularly potent operatic experience and a triumph for Cincinnati Opera.”
John Koopman, Madrid Scherzo (August, 2004)

“Directed by artistic director Nicholas Muni, Cincinnati Opera’s venturesome double bill paired a political allegory and an intimate psychodrama. His pacing and crafting of suspense took the breath away. They shared the same production, an ingenious one…”The Emperor” has considerable visual appeal. Both operas were gripping and reinforce the excellence and innovation for which Cincinnati Opera is becoming known.”
Mary Ellyn Hutton, The Cincinnati Post (June, 2004)

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