The Kaiser of Atlantis

Duration: 60 mins
Composer: Viktor Ullmann
Librettist: Petr Kien
Premiere Date: December 16, 1975
Premiere Location: De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam
Available: December 2020

The circus is abandoned, and artists are shells of their former selves. The dictator Emperor Overall reigns and declares total war. Death refuses to take another soul.

Viktor Ullmann’s now critically acclaimed chamber opera The Kaiser of Atlantis was written in 1943 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Before his death at Auschwitz, Ullmann gave the score to a colleague, and the opera remained unperformed until 1975.

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A haunting allegory about redemption despite the worst of humanity, this new production of The Kaiser of Atlantis features The Atlanta Opera Company Players in a chilling satire built for our time.

The filmed version brings the audience on stage with the performers. Close-ups and intimate vantage points that only cinema can provide will make you feel like you were there in the Big Tent, while you relax at home or on-the-go.

This entirely new production introduces innovative staging elements built for keeping the cast, crew and audience safe during a successful runoff 8 performances in October and November of this year.

Michael Mayes (Emperor Overall), Alek Shrader (Harlequin), Kevin Burdette (Death), Daniela Mack (The Drummer), Calvin Griffin (Loudspeaker), Jasmine Habersham (Girl) and Brian Vu (Soldier) star.

Characters & Cast


Calvin Griffin

Acclaimed for his “voluminous” and “darkly lustrous” voice (South Florida Classical Review).

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Alek Shrader

American tenor Alek Shrader has developed an outstanding reputation both for his beautiful lyric vocalism and his expressive characterizations.

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Kevin Burdette

He has impressed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with his mellifluous voice and strongly dramatic characterizations.

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The Drummer

Daniela Mack

She leads the vanguard of a new generation of opera singers, infusing her artistry with a mix of intensity, adventurousness, and effortless charisma.

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Emperor Overall

Michael Mayes

Renowned for his outstanding performances in contemporary operas.

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Brian Vu

Described by The New York Times as having an “ample and pleasing tone,” tenor Brian Vu creates visceral and interdisciplinary art on the operatic, theatrical, and concert stages.

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(Nov 12 & 14)

Nathan Munson

He has been praised for his vocal beauty, and proven to be a versatile presence on the concert and operatic stage.

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Jasmine Habersham

A versatile and dynamic performing artist.

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Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944)

Viktor Ullmann was born on 1 January 1898 in Těšín (Teschen), modern Český Těšín / Cieszyn. It belonged then to Silesia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now divided between Cieszyn in Poland and Český Těšín in the Czech Republic. Both his parents were from families of Jewish descent, but had converted to Roman Catholicism before Viktor’s birth. As an assimilated Jew, his father, Maximilian, was able to pursue a career as a professional officer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In World War I he was promoted to colonel and ennobled.

After deployment on the Italian Front at Isonzo, he was granted study leave, which he used to start studying law at Vienna University. There he also attended the lectures of Wilhelm Jerusalem. At the beginning of 1918 he was accepted in Schönberg’s composition seminar. With Schönberg he studied the theory of form, counterpoint and orchestration. Ullmann was an excellent pianist, although he had no ambitions for a career as a soloist.

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In May 1919, he broke off both courses of study and left Vienna in order to devote himself fully to music in Prague. His mentor was now Alexander von Zemlinsky, under whose direction he served as a conductor at the New German Theatre of Prague (now the Prague State Opera) until 1927. In the following season, 1927–28, he was appointed head of the opera company in Aussig an der Elbe (Ústí nad Labem), but his repertoire, including operas by Richard Strauss, Krenek and others, was too advanced for local tastes, and his appointment was terminated.

In 1923 with the Sieben Lieder mit Klavier (7 Songs with Piano) he witnessed a series of successful performances of his works, which lasted until the beginning of the 1930s (Sieben Serenaden). At the Geneva music festival of the International Society for New Music in 1929, his Schönberg Variations, a piano cycle on a theme by his teacher in Vienna, caused something of a stir. Five years later, for the orchestral arrangement of this work, he was awarded the Hertzka Prize, named in honor of the former director of Universal Editions. In the meantime he had been appointed conductor in Zürich for two years. As a result of his interest in anthroposophy, a movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, he spent another two years as a bookseller in Stuttgart, but was forced to flee Germany in mid-1933 and returned to Prague as a music teacher and journalist.

During this period he worked with the department of music at Czechoslovak Radio, wrote book and music reviews for various magazines, wrote as a critic for the Bohemia newspaper, lectured to educational groups, gave private lessons, and was actively involved in the program of the Czechoslovak Society for Music Education. At about this time Ullmann made friends with the composer Alois Hába, whom he had known for some time. Ullmann enrolled in Hába’s department of quarter tone music at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied from 1935 to 1937.

While his works of the 1920s still clearly show the influence of Schönberg’s atonal period, especially the Chamber Symphony Op. 9, the George Songs Op. 15 and Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21, Ullmann’s compositions from 1935 onwards, like the String Quartet No. 2 and Piano Sonata No. 1, are distinguished by a musical development that is more independent of Schönberg’s inspiration. Similarly the opera Fall of the Antichrist develops the issues raised by Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. Dissonant harmonics, highly charged musical expression, and masterly control of formal structure are characteristic of Ullmann’s new and henceforth unmistakable personal style.

On 8 September 1942 he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Up to his deportation his list of works had reached 41 opus numbers and contained an additional three piano sonatas, song cycles on texts by various poets, operas, and the piano concerto Op. 25, which he finished in December 1939, nine months after the entry of German troops into Prague. Most of these works are missing. The manuscripts presumably disappeared during the occupation. Thirteen printed items, which Ullmann published privately and entrusted to a friend for safekeeping, have survived.

The particular nature of the camp at Theresienstadt enabled Ullmann to remain active musically: he was a piano accompanist, organized concerts (“Collegium musicum”, “Studio for New Music”), wrote critiques of musical events, and composed, as part of a cultural circle including Karel Ančerl, Rafael Schachter, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása, and other prominent musicians imprisoned there. He wrote: “By no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon. Our endeavor with respect to arts was commensurate with our will to live.”

On 16 October 1944 he was deported to the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where on 18 October 1944 he was killed in the gas chambers.



Petr Kien (1919-1944)

Franz Peter Kien, a prominent figure among many outstanding artists imprisoned in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto during World War II, is usually associated with the opera The Kaiser of Atlantis by Viktor Ullmann. In addition to the libretto of that opera, Kien left significant artwork, poetry, and plays.

Kien spent his first 10 years in Varnsdorf, an industrial town near the Czech-German border. During the financial crisis his family moved to Brno. In 1936, Kien graduated with honors from a German high school. The certificate contains special notes on his remarkable skills in writing and drawing. The same year, Kien enrolled in Prof. Willy Novak’s class at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and in the graphic design school Officina Pragensis under Prof. Hugo Steiner-Prag.

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In 1939, after the racist laws were enforced, Kien was expelled from the Academy, but continued to work at the Officina Pragensis under Prof. Jaroslav Švab). He started to teach art at the Vinohrady synagogue. Married to Ilse Stranska in 1940, he tried to emigrate with his family.

In December 1941, Kien was deported to Terezin. Over a thousand drawings, sketches, designs and paintings originate from his pre-Terezin years. Consigned to the drafting room of the Technical Department in Terezin, Kien produced numerous portraits, landscapes, drawings and genre sketches. His artwork radiates light, hope and warmth. By contrast, his writings of this period are mostly tragic and hopeless.

In Terezin, Kien’s social satirical play Marionettes, staged by Gustav Schorsch. was performed 25 times. Gideon Klein set Kien’s poetic cycle Plague to music. His other plays written in the ghetto include MedeaBad dream and On the Border. They found their way to the Wiener Library in London, but were never published and never performed.

On 16 October 1944, Kien was deported to Auschwitz with his parents and his wife in the final transport in October 1944. He died from disease soon after his arrival. None of the others survived.



Clinton Smith

Clinton Smith’s 2019/20 season includes debuts at Florentine Opera conducting Le nozze di Figaro and Opera Birmingham conducting Cendrillon. He returns to Dayton Opera to conduct Cenerentola, and Tacoma Opera to conduct L’elisir d’amore. He spends his seventh summer on the music staff at Santa Fe Opera playing continuo and covering music director Harry Bicket’s performances of Cosi fan tutte.

Mr. Smith’s recent conducting credits include Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at The Atlanta Opera and Arizona Opera, Pagliacci/Pulcinella at Opera Orlando, Il barbiere di Siviglia at Dayton Opera and the University of Michigan, Le nozze di Figaro at Tacoma Opera, Alcina at Fargo-Moorhead Opera, Turandot, Norma, and Hansel und Gretel with Pacific Northwest Opera, The Mikado for Kentucky Opera, and Noah’s Flood with Opera Las Vegas. He has served on the music staff of Santa Fe Opera, Juilliard Opera, Minnesota Opera, Atlanta Opera, Portland Opera, Kentucky Opera, Ash Lawn Opera, and Skylark Operas and has included the preparation of over fifty operas in German, Italian, French, English, Czech, Russian, and Mandarin.

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On equal footing in the orchestral world, Mr. Smith recently concluded a collective nine years as music and artistic director of both Orchestra Seattle/Seattle Chamber Singers and the St. Cloud Symphony, conducting over 60 orchestral, oratorio, chamber, pops, educational, and holiday concert performances. While music director of OSSCS, he saw subscriptions double and worked in tandem with the managing director to double annual fundraising events. Among his many accomplishments include conducting seven to ten subscription concerts a season, creating a chamber music series, annual Messiah performances, and partnering with numerous cultural and educational organizations including the Hong Kong Association of Washington, the Seattle Chinese Arts Group, German Consulate, Cornish College, and Seattle University, to name a few. He launched a composer competition which premiered a new work annually, and a concerto competition to showcase local talent. His carefully curated programming focused on locally relevant themes, and explored an enormous breadth of musical styles and genres.

For four seasons, Minnesota Opera engaged Mr. Smith as cover conductor and chorus master, where he led main stage performances of La traviata and Madama Butterfly and covered the St. Paul Chamber and Minnesota Opera Orchestras in over 20 productions. During 2011, Mr. Smith conducted a workshop and prepared the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. For Minnesota Opera’s New Works Initiative, Mr. Smith prepared workshops and performances of Douglas J. Cuomo’s Doubt, Rick Ian Gordon’s The Garden of the Finzi Continis, and the North-American premiere of Jonathan Dove’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, as well as Dominick Argento’s Casanova’s Homecoming and Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights.

Previous positions include assistant conductor and chorus master for San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, assistant conductor for Glimmerglass Opera, music director of Western Ontario University’s Canadian Operatic Arts Academy, guest coach at the National University of Taiwan, music director and conductor of the Franco-American Vocal Academy in France, the Austrian-American Mozart Academy in Salzburg, and the University of Michigan Life Sciences Orchestra. Born in Texas in 1981, Mr. Smith holds degrees in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.



Tomer Zvulun

General and Artistic Director of The Atlanta Opera since 2013, Israeli born Tomer Zvulun is also one of leading stage director of his generation, earning consistent praise for his creative vision and innovative interpretations. His work has been presented by prestigious opera houses in Europe, South and Central America, Israel and the US, including The Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas, San Diego, Boston, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Israeli Opera, and the festivals of Wexford, Glimmerglass and Wolf Trap, as well as leading educational institutes and universities such as The Juilliard School, Indiana University, and Boston University.

Tomer spent seven seasons on the directing staff of the Metropolitan Opera where he directed revivals of Carmen and Tosca and was involved with more than a dozen new productions. He is a frequent guest director in companies such as Seattle Opera (Semele, La Bohème, Eugene Onegin, Lucia di Lammermoor), Dallas Opera (Die Fledermaus, La Bohème), Houston (Flying Dutchman, Rigoletto), Wexford Festival (Silent Night, Dinner at Eight), Cincinnati Opera (Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Flying Dutchman), Wolf Trap (Falstaff, Don Giovanni), Israeli Opera (Dead Man Walking, Giulio Cesare) among others. His European premiere of Silent Night at the Wexford Festival received two Irish Times Awards and traveled from Ireland to Washington National Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival and the opera companies of Atlanta, Austin and Salt Lake City.

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Zvulun directed over 15 new productions in his home company in Atlanta, including Dead Man Walking, Flying Dutchman, Soldier Songs, Silent Night, Maria de Buenos Aires, La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Lucia di Lammermoor, Magic Flute, and Eugene Onegin to name but a few. During Tomer’s tenure, the company’s fundraising has tripled, resulting in twice the number of productions presented annually. His focus on innovation has garnered national attention and resulted in a Harvard Business School case study chronicling The Atlanta Opera’s turnaround, an International Opera Awards nomination, an ArtsATL Luminary Award, and an invitation to deliver a TEDx Talk about innovation in opera.

His upcoming projects include a new Rigoletto in Houston; a new Salome in Atlanta and Kansas City; revivals of his acclaimed production of Eugene Onegin in Montreal, Seattle and Palm Beach; Silent Night at Utah Opera; and Madama Butterfly and Glory Denied in Atlanta. He is currently working on developing a world premiere based on Anne Frank’s Diary and Sensorium Ex, a world premiere based on a story about artificial intelligence.

Tomer’s recent shows have traveled across continents, receiving critical acclaim for their striking visuals and cinematic quality. Some of them included The Flying Dutchman (Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta), Dinner at Eight (Wexford Festival, Minnesota Opera), Eugene Onegin (Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit, Kansas City), Lucia di Lammermoor (Seattle, Atlanta, Cleveland) Silent Night (Wexford, Atlanta, Glimmerglass, Washington, Austin), Soldier Songs (Atlanta, San Diego), Dead Man Walking (New Orleans, Atlanta), La Bohème (Seattle, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas), Lucrezia Borgia (Buenos Aires), Gianni Schicchi (Juilliard, IVAI Tel Aviv), L’heaure Espagnole (Juilliard), Magic Flute (Cincinnati, Atlanta, Indiana University), Don Giovanni (Wolf Trap, Cincinnati), Die Fledermaus (Dallas, Kansas City), Falstaff (Wolf Trap, Des Moines), Rigoletto (Boston, Atlanta, Omaha, Charlotte), Madama Butterfly (Atlanta, Castleton Festival, New Orleans), Tosca (National Theatre Panama, Atlanta) and Semele (Seattle).

Tomer Zvulun was born and raised in Israel, attended the open University in Tel Aviv and Harvard Business School and makes his home in Atlanta.