Chicago Opera Theater's Hilarious, Ludicrous, Dangerous Operas

Don’t miss Chicago Opera Theater’s latest production, Victor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis and Carl Orff’s The Clever One. Playing at DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theatre on June 4, 6, and 8, the two satirical operas were both written in 1943 Germany under very different circumstances.

As part of the Chicago Opera Theater’s Viewpoints series, I attended a screening of the Charlie Chaplin movie The Great Dictator followed by a talk and performance. The Music Box Theatre hosted on June 1. The movie, which came out in 1940, before the U.S.’ involvement in World War II, tells the story of a bumbling dictator whose downfall is his resemblance to a Jewish barber – both played by Chaplin in his first “talkie.”

After the screening, Chicago Opera Theater General Director Andreas Mitisek and The Second City’s Director of Comedy Studies Anne Libera discussed why the film and the operas continue to be relevant over 70 years later.

Libera asserts that “making fun of that sort of ridiculousness of nationalism that shows up in this movie” is applicable today with what’s happening in Crimea with Putin.

“It’s fascinating how current these things are,” says Mitisek.

The satirical opera The Emperor of Atlantis was written by Ullmann, who was a prisoner at a concentration camp, to be performed by the inmates for the inmates. It was never performed as intended, likely because it was too truthful.

“I think the role of satire in such a dark place with a theme that is so close to the people who were there speaks very much for what satire can do,” says Mitisek.

What is that? Satire examines the truth through a comical lens.

The other Chicago Opera Theater selection, The Clever One, is also satire, but it was well received and produced over forty times during the war throughout Germany, perhaps because the satire was not perceived by those in power.

Some satire goes over people’s heads. Libera spoke of a The Second City Production that satirized Rod Blagojevich that Blagojevich himself performed in, not understanding that he was the butt of the joke.

Following the talk we were treated to a short piece from The Clever One. The full piece is sure to be fun.

Performances are at 7:30 pm on June 4 and 6, and 3 pm on June 8.

Selection from the Clever One

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