Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Passenger: Auschwitz at the Opera

Last night, we went to see ‘The Passenger’, which is an opera about the great themes of international justice. It is largely set in Auschwitz. One of the protagonists, Liese, was an Auschwitz guard. She has kept her past concealed form her husband, who is a German diplomat. On their way to his posting in Brazil in 1958, she spots another passenger on the ship, Marta, and recognizes her as a former inmate of Auschwitz. In the first act, several of the women prisoners, from France, Greece and the Czech Republic, some of them Jews, tell of their past and how they ended up in Auschwitz. The message is unforgiving, as the two women, Marta and Liese stand alone on stage in the final scene.
The composer was Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Polish Jew who managed to flee to the Soviet Union in 1939. Shostakovich, who was a great friend of his, called the opera ‘a hymn to humanity’. Weinberg spend all of his professional life in the Soviet Union, and was a prolific composer. The opera was composed in 1968. The first performance of the opera, in a concert version, took place only a few years ago. This fabulous staged version – the first – is a joint production of companies in Austria, Poland and the England. We saw the production of the English National Opera at the Coliseum in London

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