A composer, pianist and music critic, Ullmann composed Der Kaiser in Theresienstadt, the "model" camp, set up by the Nazis to show how well Jews were living under the Third Reich. Many writers, musicians and other artists were interned in the camp, and an very active cultural life developed; Ullmann actually wrote Der Kaiser to be performed at Theresienstadt, but the opera never premiered there — partly because of its all-too-obvious political allegory (Kaiser ê–berall proclaims total war of everyone against everyone, and Death himself goes on strike in protest), and partly because key performers kept getting shipped to Auschwitz (where the composer himself died in October 1944). The work finally reached the stage in Amsterdam in 1975.
There will be only one performance of Der Kaiser in Houston: tonight at 7:30 at the city's Congregation Beth Israel. Conlon conducts members of the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra; directing is Edward Berkeley, who heads undergraduate opera studies at The Juilliard School in New York; the cast, headed by baritone Brian Mulligan as the Emperor, includes many artists appearing in HGO's current productions of Simon Boccanegra and Don Giovanni.