Empire is a brief sub-section to Robert Ashley's monumental opera Atalanta (Acts of God), which, in its entirety, comprises nine hours of music. Atalanta centers on three characters each meant to represent different components of the operatic form: narrative, visual, and musical. While each character is given his or her turn when Atalanta is performed in full, Empire focuses on Willard, the narrative character, taking place in the Great Depression and relating the invention of tomato soup. Ashley originally intended the anachronistic combination of the Greek myth of Atalanta and the Great Depression to be a humorous one, however, the reference became all too relevant in the context of recovery from the 1990 Recession.
Empire was performed by four participants: Robert Ashley and Thomas Buckner, who acted at The Kitchen, as well as Sam Ashley and Jacqueline Humbert, who performed on live video from Santa Monica, CA. It was for this innovative use of technology and social connectivity that Empire was included in The Kitchen's 1995 performance series "Through the Distance: Musical Connections."