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The Emperor of Atlantis

Autumn 2012

Viktor Ullmann

Viktor Ullmann’s last opera, and an extraordinary testament of wit and humanity in the face of barbarity.
Archive: Autumn 2012

Viktor Ullmann’s short opera The Emperor of Atlantis was written when the composer and writer were prisoners at the Terezín concentration camp, and it was first rehearsed by inmates of the camp, most of whom perished when transferred to Auschwitz before the premiere. The score was smuggled out of the camp, and it has been acclaimed in performances around the world as an extraordinary testament of wit and humanity in the face of barbarity.

  • 5 Stars

    Moves you to tears… A work of subtly nuanced beauty.

    The Independent

  • 5 Stars

    Sung with passion, wit and clarity, this is English Touring Opera at its boldest.

    Independent on Sunday

  • 4 Stars

    Hauntingly powerful and highly recommended.

    The Guardian



A Loudspeaker introduces the characters. The Emperor, a Soldier and a Girl are human. The Drummer is not quite. And Death and Life are given human characteristics as a retired soldier and Harlequin.

Scene 1

Harlequin is bored and anxious, feeling old. Death feels disregarded. On behalf of the Emperor, the Drummer proclaims the ultimate holy war — death for everyone. Death is annoyed that he has not even been asked about it, when it is his job to take souls, not the Emperor’s; he resolves that he will withdraw his labour, so no one will die any more.

Scene 2

The Emperor supervises his campaign of total war. He is disturbed by messages that people have stopped dying.

Scene 3

A girl and a soldier meet, and fight. Though he is goaded by the jealous Drummer, the soldier does not kill the girl. They decide to live.

Scene 4

Harlequin and Drummer compare notes. No one is dying any more. The Emperor is beside himself. Death comes to the Emperor.

He agrees to go back to work if the Emperor agrees to be the first to die. Eventually, full of longing for life, the Emperor agrees.


People are free to die again.