Monday, 14 July 2014

'The Passenger' - Reviews round-up

The Lincoln Center production of The Passenger in New York has now been and gone. The production courted controversy before opening night - see my article here.

The reviews that have been posted online are a mixed bunch, many finding the work so-so, but the production excellent. This post presents a selection, with summaries and links for further reading.

Elizabeth Frayer & Shawn E Milnes, 'Schleppy Nabuccos' Blog, online link
Director David Pountney’s staging was terrific...Weinberg’s music is evocative... I greatly enjoyed the varied composition in The Passenger. (Frayer)
I found it too long as the action lost me at several points and I found my mind wandering...the farther away we venture from the initial presented perspective of Liese’s first person account of her story to her husband, and the longer we stay away from it, the greater the risk of breaking the audience's connection to the story. (Milne). 

George Greller, New York Classical Review - link
 If anything might refute Theodor Adorno's statement that "to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric"[sic], it would be Mieczysław Weinberg's opera The Passenger... Just as one begins to think that Weinberg is a superior craftsman but without first-rate brilliance, the composer produces some breathtaking melodic and structural invention.

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times - link
 The strongest quality of The Passenger... is the visceral way the work exposes the tension between the present and the past of its two main characters. The hero of the evening and, truly, of the opera, was Ms. Posmysz, whose novel was drawn from her own experiences at Auschwitz. Now 90, she received a prolonged ovation, along with the cast, the production team and Mr. Summers.

David Patrick Stearns, Operavore blog, WQXR - link
Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 1968 opera The Passenger is not the great, cathartic Holocaust opera that we've been waiting for. One beautiful voice after another... emerged only periodically amid Weinberg's unmelodic vocal lines. More curious, the less-than-singable lines often lack dramatic eloquence, despite the savvy efforts of Michelle Breedt as the Auschwitz overseer Liese and James Maddalena as the ship's spectral steward. So instrumentally oriented is the score that its best scene isn't vocal at all: Defying orders to play a Nazi-favored waltz, a Jewish violinist force feeds the authorities Bach's famous unaccompanied Chaconne.
Justin Davidson, - link
The Passenger has been resurrected in the guise of a historical triumph — a tale that must be told, a score that must be heard. But it remains troubling, an earnest, frequently beautiful, and fitfully powerful drama about the relationship between prisoner and guard. Its many splendid moments aestheticize Auschwitz; its weaker ones fall back on brutal cliché...Unwilling to write music as ugly as the situation and unable to plumb the complexities of the two women’s mutual dependency and hate, he falls back on a series of manipulative setpieces. But the opera’s emotional climax belongs not to either of the protagonists, but to Katya, a young partisan superbly sung by Kelly Kaduce, who brings her hardened barracks mates to tears with a plaintive Russian folk song. This may have been Weinberg’s attempt to ingratiate himself with Soviet authorities, rather than an integral part of the story, but it works its magic on New York audiences, too.
Paul J. Pelkonen, Superconductor blog - link
Despite the questionable acoustic placement of the musicians, Weinberg's massive score was eclipsed by  the white-hot intensity of the story and the searing performances of the two female leads... the sweet vocal ensembles are among the opera's best moments, recalling Weinberg's expertise as a writer of string quartets. These caged angels were all established as distinct personalities, working together against their Nazi oppressors and showing great personal courage as they passed notes, plucked flowers, celebrated Marta's birthday and struggled to survive. Most of them didn't.
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times - link
It is difficult not to be moved by Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger... For at least one observer, it promised more than it could deliver... His brashly idealistic creation, which might have benefited from the intervention of a tough editor, harbours odd ingredients: Straussian passion, Brittenesque reflection, modernist dissonance and folksy-jazzy-popsy decoration... The acoustic limitations of the Armory drill hall required generous amplification, which made everyone sound heroic beyond the norm. A muted ovation at the end of three long hours of concerted misery suggested relief as much as approbation.

Please feel free to link more reviews/articles in the comments box below - D.E. 

Just as one begins to think that Weinberg is a superior craftsman but without first-rate brilliance, the composer produces some breathtaking melodic and structural invention.

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