At the end Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis, Kaiser Uberall accepts his fate: he will be the sacrifice which will restore the balance of life and death that his own arrogance and brutality so tragically upset. It is one of the most powerful moments in 20th century opera. It is a moment of hope and high ideals; a plea for humanity, and a promise of peace. It is also a moment of unimaginable horror and tragedy, for the opera was never performed during its composer’s lifetime. Ullmann died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau on 18 October 1944.
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins tomorrow night. And as we approach that solemn day of remembrance for the millions murdered by the Nazis, I find my thoughts going back to the final moments of Ullman’s opera.