A Convincing Performance of Weinberg’s Remarkable, Intense Opera, Die Passagierin

05/03/2018

Weinberg, Die Passagierin (The Passenger): Frankfurter Opern- und Museumorchester, Oper Frankfurt Chorus / Leo Hussain (conductor), Opernhaus, Frankfurt, 3.3.2018. (JMI)

Die Passagierin © B. Aumüller

Cast:
Lisa – Katharina Magiera
Marta – Jessica Strong
Tadeusz – Iain MacNeil
Walter – Peter Marsh
Katja – Elizabeth Reiter
Krystina – Maria Pantiukhova
Vlasta – Cecelia Hall
Hannah – Judita Nagyová
Yvette – Angela Vallone
Bronka – Joanna Krasuska-Motulewicz
Alte – Barbara Zeichmeister
SS Men – Dietrich Volle, Magnús Baldvinsson, Hans-Jürgen Lazar

Production:
Director – Anselm Weber
Sets – Katja Hass
Costumes – Bettina Walter
Lighting – Olaf Winter

This Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera has been very successful since its premiere in Moscow in 2006; unfortunately, its composer, who died ten years earlier, could not be part of it. Since then, the work has piqued the interest of theatres and opera lovers, and it was first staged at the Frankfurt Opera three years ago.

The opera takes place on an ocean liner, where two former occupants of the Auschwitz prison camp are travelling. On the one hand, there is Lisa, a jailer in the camp, who is travelling to Brazil with her husband, Walter; and then there is Marta, a Polish Jew whom she met at Auschwitz. The opera narrates the emotions of the protagonists in real time on the ship and in flashback to the concentration camp. It is a compelling opera in dramatic terms, and it is well done in musical terms. Even if it is not a sort of bel canto opera, the music is appealing and holds the interest of the audience.

This Anselm Weber production features a revolving stage, which moves from the ship and the cabin of Lisa and Walter to the prison camp barracks. One’s interest in the plot is keen right from the beginning: The opera keeps the interest of the plot alive from the beginning: in short, it’s a remarkable production at the service of the opera and not vice versa.

The costumes are appropriate, and the stage direction is quite good, especially in terms of the crowd movements. 

The musical direction by Leo Hussain was, for me, the best part of the night. It is not easy to conduct a modern opera, and he did it perfectly, with no lessening of interest or tension at any time. Under his baton, both the orchestra and the chorus gave impressive performances.

The leading role is shared in this opera between the former Auschwitz jailor, Lisa, and the ex-prisoner, Marta. Lisa was played by mezzo-soprano Katharina Magiera, who offered a convincing interpretation, and the same can be said about the performance of soprano Jessica Strong as Marta. Both belong to the Frankfurt Opera, which has always offered praise-worthy singers, although they are not always well known.

The part of Tadeusz, Marta’s fiancé at Auschwitz, was performed by baritone Iain MacNeil, who is still a student at the Frankfurt Opera Studio. He has an attractive voice and good acting skills, and left a positive impression. Tenor Peter Marsh, whom one might term a character tenor, did well as Walter.

The rest of the characters are secondary, although some have solo numbers of some importance. They were appropriately covered in all cases.

José M. Irurzun  

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