The Passenger


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. Because this is a world premiere recording, a special keepcase book is provided with an introduction by Shostakovich and the libretto in German, English, French, and Polish as well as other background information. The opera is sung in German, English, French, Russian and Yiddish. Multi language subtitles are provided as well as translations in German, English, French, Polish, and Russian. There is also a documentary film "In der Fremde" in German with English subtitles. It appears this is the first opera video to be released in HDVD (Blu-ray) only. Released  2010, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound and the documentary and extras are in stereo. Grade: A

Although Weinberg wrote The Passenger in 1967-68, this is a recording of the world-premiere staging in 2010. Because all this is so new, here is (edited) information copied from "The Passenger is an opera in 2 acts, 8 scenes and an epilogue. Title includes "In der Fremde," a documentary film created by Austrian public broadcasting and interviews with creators and cast members. The Passenger is based on the eponymous novel of the Polish writer and survivor of Auschwitz, Zofia Posmycz. Martha (Elena Kelessidi), a one-time SS overseer of the camp, 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.

The documentary "In der Fremde" portrays Weinberg's life, reveals the creation of the novel and the author's memories of Auschwitz, and shows the work that led up to the performance at the Bregenz Festival. This title has an feature that we've yet to see on any other HDVD: multilingual subtitles. This feature shows subtitles in the language that is being sung, requiring the viewer to read along in every language used. The inmates at Auschwitz came from many countries and often had difficulty understanding both their captors and their fellow prisoners. Out of respect for this, 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 and video 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 who survived Auschwitz and later other concentration camps. The music compares well to the opera scores of Shostakowich. This is likely to be the only recording of this for some time.

We have heard of some playback issues with this title. For some viewers, the disc will either not play or play with sound only. On our Oppo BDP-83 player, with all default settings, we discovered that the title would play sound, but would not play video. This was fixed, however, by changing the video playback option in the Oppo menu from "Multi-system" to "NTSC." After that, the disc played perfectly. Later our Oppo BDB-93 player played this disc without difficulty.

In August 2015, Arthaus published a new edition of this with different artwork and packaging. Neo discontinued their disc, sold the rights to Arthaus, and the Neos version became a collectors' item. For our full review and screenshots of this title, see our Arthaus story.

Here is a YouTube clip:

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