Empire was a brief sub-section of Robert Ashley’s monumental opera Atalanta (Acts of God), which, in its entirety, comprised nine hours of music. Atalanta centered on three characters, each meant to represent different components of the operatic form: narrative, visual, and musical. While each character was given his or her turn when Atalanta was performed in full, Empire focused on Willard, the narrative character. Atalanta took place in the Great Depression and related 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, California. 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.