An impressive production of Weinberg’s The Passenger at Madrid’s Teatro Real

SpainSpain M. Weinberg, The Passenger (Die Passagierin): Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 4.3.2024. (JMI)

Amanda Majeski (Marta) and Daveda Karanas (Lisa) © J. del Real

Director – David Pountney
Sets – Johan Engels
Costumes – Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting – Fabrice Kebour
Chorus master – José Luis Basso

Marta – Amanda Majeski
Lisa – Daveda Karanas
Walter – Nikolai Schukoff
Tadeusz – Gyula Orendt
Katja – Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie
Krzystyna – Lidia Vinyes-Curtis
Vlasta – Marta Fontanals
Hannah – Nadezhda Karyazina
Yvette – Olivia Doray
Alte – Helen Field
Bronka – Liuba Sokolova

Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger has enjoyed success since its premiere in Moscow in 2006, ten years after the composer’s death. This marks the opera’s first performances at Teatro Real, and it has been well received.

The opera takes place on an ocean liner, where two former occupants of the Auschwitz concentration camp meet. One is Lisa, who was a guard in the camp and is traveling to Brazil with her husband. The other is Marta, a Polish Jew and a prisoner at Auschwitz when Lisa was a guard; her fiancé, Tadeusz, is with her. The opera narrates the emotions of the protagonists on the ship in the present time and, in flashbacks, in the concentration camp. It is an intriguing opera in dramatic terms and, although there are no arias, there are moments of great musical interest, as happens in Marta’s important scenes.

Teatro Real is offering Weinberg’s opera in a new co-production with the Bregenz Festival, Warsaw’s Wielki Theater and the English National Opera, and is directed by David Pountney.

Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger at Teatro Real © J. del Real

The production is attractive and narrates the plot very well, without the ‘originalities’ to which modern directors are so accustomed. The upper part of the stage is the deck of the ship on which Lisa and Marta meet, which causes a real shock. In the lower part we are shown scenes of Auschwitz in flashback, which are very well done, especially those of the prisoners’ barracks. Curiously, above this lower stage is the chorus which sings its brief parts in Spanish.

The stage direction worked really well on the whole. It is a production worthy of being highlighted and reminded me a lot of one by Anselm Weber that I saw in Frankfurt six years ago.

Conductor Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla was making her debut at Teatro Real. Her reading was excellent: there is a lot to conduct here, and she has shown that she knows the work perfectly. She maintained the intensity and emotion throughout the opera and drew a fine performance from the Teatro Real Orchestra.

The vocal cast has four major characters and a series of secondary ones, mainly Marta’s companions in Auschwitz.

The real protagonist of the opera is Marta, played here by soprano Amanda Majeski who was outstanding. She is a strong singer with an attractive voice, and well able to express emotions, as happened in her great scene in Act II as well as in the Epilogue. Lisa was mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, who was also very good although her voice was less appealing.

Walter, a German diplomat and Lisa’s husband, was played by tenor Nikolai Schukoff, whom we have seen many times in Wagnerian roles. His voice is broad and his performance was adequate. Baritone Gyula Orendt sang the part of Tadeusz, Marta’s fiancé, who had also been in Auschwitz, and he sang well and with gusto.

The rest of the characters sang and acted well.

José M. Irurzun

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