The state opera that survived Auschwitz
A JEWISH orchestra has joined forces with the Bavarian State Opera to perform a work written by a doomed composer at Munich’s annual Jewish Festival.
Czech composer Victor Ullmann wrote The Emperor of Atlantis while imprisoned at the Theresienstadt camp. He was subsequently deported to Auschwitz and murdered in 1944.
His dark opera, a thinly veiled allegory of Hitler’s lust for power over life and death, was never performed in the concentration camp.
Theresienstadt was paraded by the Nazis as proof that Jews were being handled fairly. In fact, more than 30,000 died there and another 88,000 were deported to other camps.
In the opera, subtitled Death’s Refusal, a mythical emperor wages a massive war and tries to ban both death and art. In the end, the character representing Death offers to return, if the Emperor agrees to be the first to die. The Emperor acquiesces, but reminds Death that war will go on.
The performances were held in Munich’s new Jewish community centre.
“You cannot separate the opera from its historical context,” said Markus Koch, director of the Bavarian State Opera. “But on the other hand, it has such an immediacy and pertinence and relevance today.
Mr Koch, 38, who is not Jewish, continued: “As a German you do have a special responsibility. I inherited that terrible history. The only thing I can do is work actively against forgetting and for remembering.”
Daniel Grossmann, 29-year-old conductor and co-founder of the twoyear-old Jakobsplatz Orchestra, said Ullmann’s fate was always in the back of his mind.
But the orchestra, whose musicians come from all over the world, is dedicated to playing works by Jewish composers. And so he approached the task with joy, rather than mourning, said Mr Grossmann.
He also hopes the orchestra will become an attraction, bringing Jews and non-Jews together in Munich’s new Jewish community centre on Jakobsplatz. They need other points of communication aside from the Holocaust, he said. “It is very important, especially for young people.”
Daniel Grossmann: the young conductor approached the project “with joy”