By Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Libretto by Alexander Medvedev
based on the novel of the same name by
Conducted by sir Andrew Davis
Stage Direction by David Pountney
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Stunningly powerful Holocaust opera is a tasteful testimony to the courage and heroism of the human spirit.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago proudly presents The Passenger, the 1968 opera by Polish Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-96), who left Poland to escape the Nazis for Russia during World War II. He was a suppressed composer and victim of the anti-Semitic policies of Stalin. Composed in 1968 but not mounted until 2010 in Austria, The Passenger is a remarkable opera that overcomes the problem of presenting art works about the Holocaust. It is not too melodramatic not too sentimental or too simplistic – rather it is a stunningly powerful ode to the survival of the human spirit.
Based on the novel buy Zodia Posmysz, The Passenger is a memory opera that finds a German diplomat, Walter (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) and his wife on a ocean liner bound for Brazil when Liese (mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas) believes she has spotted a woman whom she victimized when she was a Nazi guard at Auschwitz. The horrifying moment threatens her marriage and the couple’s career. Liese is forced to reveal her Nazi past to her older husband, who is more concerned with forgetting the German past so as not to hurt their present status. Guilt and fear dominate Liese as she tries to rationalize her actions at Auschwitz. We learn about Marta (soprano Amanda Majeski), was a Polish inmate that Liese tried to use to control the other female prisoners.
Featuring a two-level set (by the deceased designer Johan Engels) that has the ship and passengers in white and the lower level a shabby cell block complete with rail tracks of the notorious concentration camp, The Passenger is a memory dramatic opera that presents Liese’s actions and the actions of Marta and her fellow inmates as they struggle to survive and as they defy their Nazi captures.
Filled with mid- 20th Century musical style that features powerful underscoring with stunning percussion, horns, and strings with tender melodic riffs, Weinberg’s music deeply evokes the emotions of rage, defiance, and optimism of the human spirit of the inmates. Jovanovich’s strong voice with Karanas mellow mezzo-soprano present the German’s distorted memories while the fabulous Amanda Majeski , as Marta, dominates the spirit of compassion as she attempts to consul her fellow inmates.
Scenes of terror, tender human moments, and brave defiance are effectively sung with evocative music. The cast features outstanding vocals as well as a male Greek chorus as witnesses to the horrors and lies from Liese.
This moving and deeply emotional opera is a major artistic achievement for Weinberg and Medvedec that is an important work that begs to be witnessed. It is an achievement to the power of the human spirit and bravery of the inmates. It demonstrates the strength of music to reach into the soul of humanity.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 24, 2015
For more info checkout The Passenger page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker, Chicago, IL,call 3120827-5600