It being Holocaust Remembrance Week it was entirely appropriate that Tuesday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by the Likht Ensemble of Jaclyn Grossman, soprano, and Nate Ben-Horin, piano. The material was mostly drawn from music written/collected at either Theresienstadt or in the ghettos of Lithuania.
Viktor Ullmann’s “one act play” Der Kaiser von Atlantis gets talked about a fair bit but fairly rarely performed. Operabase lists only three productions worldwide in the last five years. It was written in Theresienstadt to a libretto by Peter Kien and nether composer nor librettist survived the war. It’s quite short; well under an hour, and is usually seen as a parody of Hitler and the National Socialists. I think it’s quite a gentle parody though, especially given when and where it was written.
Terezín/Theresienstadt is a CD of music composed in the concentration camp at Terezín in what was then Czechoslovakia. Virtually the entire Czech intelligentsia; certainly those of Jewish or Communist persuasion, were imprisoned in a kind of “show camp” to demonstrate to the world that the Nazis weren’t as bad as made out. Nine of the ten composers featured on the disc ended up on a “Polentransport”; a one way ticket to Auschwitz. No story is more poignant than that of Ilse Weber, a nurse in the hospital. She chose to accompany the sick children of the camp on their final journey and reportedly sang to them in the gas chamber.
Both Viktor Ullmann and Alexander Zemlinsky were among the group of composers persecuted by the Nazi regime. Ullman would die in Auschwitz, Zemlinsky in exile and obscurity. This 2008 recording from Los Angeles Opera’s “Recovered Voices” series brings together two one act operas; Ullman’s Der zerbrochene Krug and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg. in productions directed by Darko Tresnjak and conducted by James Conlon.