Weinberg: The Passenger

Natalia Karlova, Dmitri Starodubov, Olga Tenyakova, Irina Kulikovskaya, Tatiana Nikandrova; Ekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre Orchestra/Oliver von Dohnányi; dir. Thaddeus Strassberger (Dux; DVD)

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Weinberg The Passenger (DVD)
Natalia Karlova, Dmitri Starodubov, Olga Tenyakova, Irina Kulikovskaya, Tatiana Nikandrova; Ekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre Orchestra/Oliver von Dohnányi; dir. Thaddeus Strassberger (Ekaterinburg, 2016)
Dux DUX 8387 160:34 mins

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Mieczysław Weinberg’s 1967 opera The Passenger sets a harrowing story by Polish writer Zofia Posmysz about the chance meeting on an ocean liner between Liese, a former SS officer at Auschwitz, and Marta, a Polish inmate whom she had victimised. Posmysz juxtaposes this post-war encounter, which exposes Liese’s suppressed feeling of guilt, with traumatic flashbacks to the life of suffering and cruelty experienced by those interned in the camp. The opera’s premiere at the 2010 Bregenz Festival was given wide dissemination through an Arthaus DVD release. Now comes an equally compelling representation of the first Russian production given in 2016 by stellar soloists and the combined orchestra and chorus of the Ekaterinburg Opera House.

The earlier Bregenz DVD perhaps holds advantages through the more technically refined playing of the Wiener Symphoniker under Teodor Currentzis, the enhanced personal tension between Liese and her German diplomat husband Walter in the opening act, and the inclusion of an informative documentary about the opera. But the flashback scenes in Auschwitz, which seemed lengthy and discursive in the Bregenz version, are far more convincingly paced by the Russian company. Furthermore, the opera’s climax, where Marta’s violinist fiancé Tadeusz is brutally attacked by SS guards for defying the camp commandant by playing the Bach Chaconne instead of the demanded popular waltz, has shattering impact here, in contrast to the comparatively limp way it was staged in Bregenz.

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Erik Levi