|May 15, 2012
Opera in two acts, eight scenes and an epilogue
Libretto: Alexander Medvedev after Zofia Posmysz's novel
World premiere: Moscow, House of Music, 25 December 2006
World premiere of the David Pountney's production: Bregenz Festival, 21 July 2010
Polish premiere: 8 October 2010
Multilingual version with Polish surtitles
duration: 3 hrs 5 min., including: 1 intermission
Conductor: Gabriel Chmura
Director: David Pountney
Set Design and Props: Johan Engels
Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Chorus Master: Bogdan Gola
Lights: Fabrice Kebour
Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Polish National Opera
Co-production: Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria; English National Opera, London; Teatro Real, Madrit
A standing ovation lasting many minutes, rapture, and emotional tears from the audience accompanied the Warsaw premiere of this opera. After the performance, when Zofia Posmysz - who wrote the novel The Passenger on which the libretto is based, and who is also the model for the character of Marta - appeared on stage, the audience froze in a moment of silence. It was the same at the world premiere on 21 July 2010 at the Bregenz festival, where Zofia Posmysz was also a guest of honour. The novel gained fame in Poland and internationally through Andrzej Munk’s film of the same title. Munk’s film was an unfinished though perfect project. It enjoys great acclaim to this day. Mieczysław Weinberg wrote his opera based on the novel in 1968, but it did not premiere in his lifetime - the Soviet authorities considered it to be ideologically suspect. “What makes The Passenger such an important work is its authenticity; Zofia Posmysz actually survived Auschwitz, Mieczysław Weinberg lost his entire family during the Holocaust and one could say he spent the rest of his life composing music in honour of their memory”, says David Pountney, the production’s director and the intendant at the Bregenz Festival, an unquestionable star of contemporary opera directing.
TERYTORIA (TERRITORIES). A series of meetings with contemporary music - meetings in which we try to discover and sketch a new image of opera. The genre is changing its definition today, conquering new territories, drawing new meanings, proposing a new aesthetic. In this cycle we present the greatest works of contemporary music alongside debuts of Polish composers, works that are completely unknown next to classics of the avant-garde, debuts of Polish directors juxtaposed with productions staged by top European names. Opera is alive, doing well, and winking at us with Fenics’ cybernetic eye.
Poster for the production, designed by Adam Żebrowski
Photo: Krzysztof Bieliński
Sponsor of the premiere:
Partner of the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera:
Media patrons of the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera:
The early 1960’s, on an ocean liner. Watching over the scene is a chorus who sometimes take part as prisoners,
passengers or officers, and sometimes are merely onlookers from another time, as are we.
A German diplomat, Walter, and his young wife, Lisa, are on the way to Brazil where he will take up a diplomatic post.
Suddenly she sees a fellow passenger who she thinks she recognises, except that she knows that person to be dead.
Under the shock of this encounter, she reveals to her husband for the first time that she was an SS overseer in Auschwitz.
The revelation is a crisis for both of them.
In the camp, we learn that the Passenger is Martha, a Polish prisoner who Lisa Franz, the overseer, has marked out as
someone who could help control the other prisoners.
In the female barracks, we meet women from every corner of Europe brought together in this cosmopolitan hell.
A suspected Russian partisan, Katia arrives from a brutal interrogation, and the Kapo finds a note in Polish which
may implicate her. Lisa orders Martha to read it, and Martha coolly renders it as a love letter - as if to her own fiancée,
Tadeusz, who she believes is also a prisoner. Back on the boat, Lisa and Walter try to come to terms with this new
background to their relationship.
Under Lisa’s supervision the women are sorting belongings looted from the prisoners. An officer arrives demanding
a violin. The Governor has ordered a concert at which his favourite waltz should be played by one of the prisoners.
Lisa produces a violin, but the officer says he will send the prisoner himself to collect it. The prisoner is Tadeusz. He
and Martha have a brief scene of recognition before Lisa interrupts them. She allows them to continue their contact,
hoping to capitalise on this “kindness” later.
Lisa confronts Tadeusz in the workshop where he produces silver ornaments to order for the SS Officers. One is
a Madonna which Lisa recognises as Martha. Lisa offers Tadeusz the chance to meet Martha, but Tadeusz refuses.
He does not want to be in Lisa’s debt.
In the female barracks it is Martha’s birthday. She sings a song about being in love with death. Lisa interrupts and tries
to goad Martha by telling her that Tadeusz turned down a chance to see her, but Martha remains unmoved: if that is
what Tadeusz decided, he was right to do so! Yvette tries to teach an old Russian woman French, and Katia sings
about Russia. Suddenly guards burst in: it is selection time. A list of numbers is broadcast, and one by one various prisoners
are taken away. Lisa tells Martha that it is not her turn yet: she will arrange for her to witness Tadeusz’s concert.
Back on the boat Lisa and Walter have come to a new understanding: even if the Passenger is Martha, they are determined
to brazen it out, and decide to join the dancing in the Salon. Lisa is however horrified when The Passenger
approaches the band, apparently to make a request, and they start to play the Governor’s Waltz.
Back in the camp it is time for the concert, and all the officers and prisoners are assembled. Tadeusz, however, does
not play the waltz, but something else. The scene breaks up in uproar as his violin is smashed and he is dragged off
to the death cells. In the last scene, we are left with Martha and her memories, and her longing that all who suffered
should not be forgotten.