Mieczysław Weinberg The Passenger opera to libretto by Alexander Medvedev after a novel by Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz. (The title in German is Die Passagierin.) Directed 2010 by David Pountney at the Bregenz Festival. Stars singers Michelle Breedt (Lisa), Roberto Saccà (Walter), Elena Kelessidi (Wartha), Artur Rucinski (Tadeusz), Svetlana Doneva (Katja), Angelica Voje (Krzystina), Elżbieta Wróblewska (Vlasta), Agnieszka Rehlis (Hannah), Talia Or (Ivette), Helen Field (Alte), Liuba Sokolova (Bronka), Tobias Hächler (1st SS Officer), Wilfried Staber (2nd SS Officer), David Danholt (3rd SS Officer), Richard Angas (Elderly Passenger/Steward), Heide Capovilla (Senior Overseer/Capo), David Gabl, Michael Koch, Juliusz Kubiak, and Anton Schwärzler (4 Soldiers), Michelle Lau and Matthias Zuggal (Soldiers on watchtowers), and violinist Andreas Semlitsch (Double for Tadeusz in violin scene). Also stars stage musicians Raphael Brunner, Stefan Mikic, Roger Szedalik, Dominik Neunteufel, and Michael Schatzmann. Teodor Currentzis conducts the Weiner Symphoniker and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (Choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek). Set design by Johan Engels; costume design by Marie-Jeanne Lecca; lighting design by Fabrice Kebour; video direction by Felix Breisach. The opera is sung in German, English, French, Russian and Yiddish. There is also a documentary film "In der Fremde" in German with English subtitles. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound and the documentary and extras are in stereo. Grade: A
[Special Note: This is the same title that was released by Neos in 2010 and which has apparently been discontinued by them. Arthaus has a history of picking up orphaned HDVDs and republishing them with new artwork. This is an important title, so we plan to buy the Arthaus version. The Neos disc package had a multi-language subtitle option as well as translation subtitles in German, English, French, Polish, and Russian. Neos also had a good documentary. It will be interesting to see which bells and whistles Arthaus will continue.]
The Passenger is based on the eponymous novel written by Zofia Posmycz, a Polish writer and survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Although Weinberg wrote The Passenger in 1967-68, it didn't get performed until 2010. Here is basic plot: After WW II, Martha (Elena Kelessidi), a one-time SS overseer at Auschwitz, unexpectedly meets Lisa (Michelle Breedt), a former prisoner with whom Martha had contact. In flashbacks we learn about what happened in Auschwitz and about the relationship between the two protagonists.
I mentioned the multilingual subtitles. The inmates at Auschwitz came from many countries and often had difficulty understanding both their captors and their fellow prisoners. This opera shows subtitles in the language that is being sung by various prisoners, requiring the viewer to know or read along in every language used. Out of respect for the memory of the inmates, I watched The Passenger cold with the multilingual subtitles. I had considerable trouble following the story. Later I switched to English and German subtitles and had no more difficulty.
This is an excellent production of an earnest and commendable work about a difficult topic: the allocation of guilt for what happened at places like Auschwitz. The libretto, though vastly simplified from the novel by Zofia Posmycz, demands respect because it's based on the actual experiences of a political prisoner at Auschwitz who managed to survive. The music compares well to the opera scores of Shostakowich.
Since 2010, The Passender has been staged several more times and more people know about it than ever before. Still, this is likely to remain the only recording of this for some time.