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Chicago Opera Theater's one hour opera festival


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Chicago Opera Theater's One Hour Opera Festival

Chicago Opera Theater's new trio of well-sung one-acts emphasizes its variety with a promenade format--requiring the audience to move between three different spaces--and it's well worth the walk. Bon Appetit!, Lee Hoiby's short spoof of TV chef Julia Child, turns the Athenaeum Theatre's cramped second-floor studio into a TV soundstage, where our bubbly heroine guzzles wine as she warbles a recipe for chocolate cake. The Face on the Barroom Floor, Henry Mollicone and John S. Bowman's melodrama about a deadly love triangle in the Old West, is performed in a party room decorated like the story's real-life Rocky Mountain setting--the Teller House Saloon in Central City, Colorado. These two diversions, both accompanied by solo piano, are an ear-pleasing warm-up for the main-stage event: the local premiere of The Emperor of Atlantis, written by inmates of the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt. Staged by Rhoda Levine with a dignified but intense simplicity, this poignant and powerful piece by composer Viktor Ullmann and librettist Petr Kien is an allegory: Death, protesting the scale of slaughter in modern warfare, goes on strike, leaving crazy Kaiser Uberall in a real fix. Not "about" the Holocaust in any literal sense, Emperor is a grim yet strangely exhilarating meditation on death as relief from a living hell, all the more moving for its eerie lack of anger or violence. The music, written in a pungently lyrical vein that recalls Stravinsky, Weill, and Hanns Eisler--composers whose ranks Ullmann might have joined had he not died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz--is superbly performed under Lawrence Rapchak's dynamic direction, with a full orchestra that makes the most of the score's crisp, transparent instrumental textures. The strong cast sticks around for a complementary postshow concert of songs by Ullmann, Kodaly, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and others. Saturday, 6:30 and 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 773-292-7578. Bon Appetit! and The Face on the Barroom Floor will be repeated Sunday at 3 PM. Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Emperor of Atlantis.

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