Lyric Opera’s “The Passenger” Review – Moving Score Imploring Holocaust Memory

When the thin Polish author Zofia Posmysz joined the cast of “The Passenger” on the Lyric Opera stage to also take a bow it was difficult to keep restraining the tears.  Posmysz was the author of the radio play then novel upon which this opera is based.  She was also our first introduction to the piece, as photos of young Posmysz in Auschwitz prisoner garb are used on the program cover. 

Posmysz’ stride onto the stage seemed to show that she is defying frailty and age with a similar unbreakable spirit that this story so well depicted among Auschwitz prisoners. 



One imagines that much of her life has been devoted to demanding that memory of the holocaust not be lost  –both its brutality and the valiance of those who resisted the best they could. 




As this strong emotive score by relatively unknown Miecyzsław Weinberg is appropriately registered in the pantheon of opera giants it will go a long way to achieving her presumed mission of making sure that we do not forget.



And what music it is! 



The prelude filled with drums and a loudness that is heard only rarely afterwards conveys the violence and brutality of what is to come.  Described accurately in the pre-performance talk, highly recommended, by Jesse Graham, Audience Education Manager for Lyric Unlimited, as having many parts that are relatively “atonal..and wandering” this score is more sequences of affect than melody in the more traditional sense. 




When the former Nazi guard and her diplomat husband dance or speak of their dancing there is rhythm of dance but tones of a deformed melody that seems to flirt with cacophony.  Similarly the orchestration becomes violent and jarring in the silences between this couple as he digests her tale of what had come before.   



When the chorus sings, standing in as representatives of us, the modern day observers, its with a quiet almost dirge like sound. 



When the lovers, Maria and Tadeuz, are briefly reunited and reminisce, the score never leaps away from the unrelenting grief of the surrounds. 




Most of the time the music is soft yet able to convey the emotion of full-throttled screaming.



We read in the program not only that Weinberg was a close associate of Dmitri Shostakovich but also also Shostakovich’s 1974 preface to “The Passenger” vocal score.   If you favor Shostakovich’s music you will likely welcome the similarities you hear in this score.




The realism of this production (Director, David Pountney) helps convey the horrors of the death camp beyond the score and story (Libretto Alexander Medvedev). 



When you see the workers shoveling ashes from the ovens you too might feel an urge to retch.  The set (Set Designer Johan Engels) juxtaposes a brilliant sparkling white cruise ship above to a steeped in drab greyness of Auschwitz below. 




The many female prisoners are bald and in uniforms that at times make them barely distinguishable (Costumer Designer, Marie-Jeanne Lecca and Wigmaster and Makeup Designer, Sarah Hatten).


It would be a spoiler to detail the final scene of this opera, with its minimalist set and costume that will likely sear in your memory banks forever.   Suffice it to say that this finale, as the tale as a whole, is a powerful insistence to never forget.



The cast—all—performed with a perfection that we both have come to expect from the Lyric Opera and on par with the historic weight of the tale.


It’s not hyperbole to say that this production of “The Passenger” was a Lyric milestone.   While we all love the Puccini, Strauss, Wagner, and other composers of the best-known opera repertoire that dominate the Lyric’s seasons, it is the production of such lesser knowns like “The Passenger” that break the mold and make opera history. 


Performances are staged at the Civic Opera House,20 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606 


There are performances through March 15, 2015.


For more information visit the Lyric Opera website or call the Lyric Opera at 312 827 5600.












Top of Page
Join Splash Magazines

Feature Article

Tempflow™ and Tempur-Pedic® Reviews - What 35 Hours of Research Uncovered

Want Your Business to Male a Splash
<!-- #wrapper -->