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‘The Emperor of Atlantis’ gets a modern update

Two Grammy Award winners will visit Northwestern to coach voice and opera students
northwestern opera
One of the highlights of the 2022 fall season was the Northwestern University Opera Theater production of “In a Grove,” directed by Joachim Schamberger with music by the Contemporary Music Ensemble conducted by Alan Pierson. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

A new staging of a classic opera and a master class led by Grammy Award-winning American soprano Christine Brewer are among the highlights of the fall voice and opera season at the Bienen School of Music. 

The new staging of Viktor Ullmann’s opera “The Emperor of Atlantis” opens Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.  It incorporates a modern twist with elements of artificial intelligence. The opera, performed by Bienen voice and opera program students together with the Contemporary Music Ensemble, was composed while Ullmann was a prisoner of the concentration camp at Terezín in the Czech Republic. Its plot explores a war-torn world in which Death goes on strike, granting immortality to all.  

"Ullmann's opera is so witty and smart, and so insightful in its political satire,” said Alan Pierson, conductor of the Contemporary Music Ensemble. “There's so much rich material for these talented young musicians to tear into. And it's particularly meaningful to shine a light on the extraordinary work that Ullmann created amid the horror of Nazi Germany." 

Director Joachim Schamberger spoke of the opera’s conception “in the midst of inconceivable darkness,” and how it recalls “humanity’s lowest and highest capabilities. In our production, we explore how the phenomena which led into this darkness are still alive in our times and beyond,” he said. 

In the Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class series, voice and opera students receive coaching from renowned professionals. November’s class is taught by Christine Brewer, who has received acclaim for her appearances with many of the world’s leading orchestras, particularly for her titular role in Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” and her myriad performances of his “Four Last Songs.” 

I am thrilled that our Bienen School voice majors will have an opportunity to work with Christine Brewer in her Tichio-Finnie master class,” said voice and opera program artist-in-residence Nancy Gustafson, who has performed with Brewer and the New York Philharmonic. “She always sings with a consummate elegance. Giving our students an opportunity to work with her on song literature is a once in a lifetime experience.” 

The series will continue in the winter quarter with a master class given by multi-Grammy Award- and 2018 Olivier Award- winner Joyce DiDonato on January 8. 

“Joyce DiDonato is among the most inspiring artists of this generation. Her commitment to have a real impact for good throughout the world is apparent in each project and performance that she takes on,” said W. Stephen Smith, voice and opera program coordinator. She is a model for how our voice program strives to enable impactful vocal artists for coming generations.” 

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