Opera by Mieczysław Weinberg


In the late 1960s, when Weinberg was already the author of numerous chamber and symphonic works, he decided to compose an opera. He dedicated the 1967-68 years to the two-act The Passenger, which he considered thereafter a work of his entire life. Unfortunately, Weinberg didn’t see the opera on stage, nor did he even hear its concert performance — it was staged only after 38 years of its “strict insulation” from the audience. The composer once said with a bitter irony to his co-author, librettist and musicologist Alexander Medvedev: “Our opera is a musical Count of Monte Cristo. By a false denunciation it is doomed to be confined in my desk for an indefinite period. ”

The literary source of the opera was created by Zofia Posmysz, a former prisoner of Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. Forms of the artistic existence of the plot include a radio play, a teleplay, a film (unfortunately uncompleted because of the death of the director Andrzej Munk), and finally a story published in Russia in 1962. Dmitri Shostakovich familiarized himself with it and saw an excellent material for an opera. Then Shostakovich showed the story to his friend musicologist Alexander Medvedev, who worked at the Bolshoi Theatre and on introducing him to Weinberg, blessed their future creative collaboration. Alexander Medvedev found it necessary to go to Auschwitz, a place where the main action of the story unfolds, and it was the writer herself, Mrs. Zofia, a miraculously survived death camp inmate, who led him through all the circles of hell. The libretto was created under the impressions from the trip, as well as from the personal acquaintance with Mrs. Posmysz. Back in Moscow, Medvedev presented Weinberg with the ready libretto, and the composer began his work on The Passenger commissioned by the Bolshoi Theater.

Having finished the score, Weinberg traditionally showed it to Shostakovich. Shostakovich, who treated Weinberg as a close and dear person and always took part in his life, heard The Passenger in the author’s piano performance, acquainted himself with the score and arranged listening of the opus for the musical community at the Russian Union of Composers. Aram Khachaturian and Evgeny Svetlanov, Boris Tchaikovsky and Rodion Shchedrin, Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov and Andrei Eshpay, Dmitry Kabalevsky and Vladimir Rubin, composers of different artistic trends and aesthetic preferences, expressed delight at the discussion, unanimously recognizing the birth of the opera as an outstanding artistic event.

Rehearsals and preparation for the production started at the Bolshoi Theatre. Several theaters in the USSR and the National Theatre in Prague got interested in The Passenger. And in the midst of scenic rehearsals an instruction from Moscow followed to stop working on The Passenger. The road to stage was blocked for the opera by a label of allegedly “abstract humanism”, inherited from unknown dissidents, which caused serious complaints. A little earlier it was charged with “formalism”. As researcher Sergei Yakovenko rightly noted, it was primarily librettist Alexander Medvedev to blame, who hadn’t reflected the important role of a Communist Party nucleus in the death camp of Auschwitz – thus, they could have stolen lists of prisoners directions to the crematorium or temporarily incapacitate one of the ovens … in short, Medvedev lacked resourcefulness to please the party leadership. Самый объективный рейтинг про лучшие онлайн казино ждет вас на данном сайте. Ознакомьтесь с ним, чтобы понять какое заведение вам подходит.

Despite the depth of ethical, moral, and spiritual problems underlying the opera of Weinberg and Medvedev, there is a clearly visible detective intrigue in it as well as in the whole 38-year history of struggle, countless defeats and final, although extremely belated victory of The Passenger. The world premiere of the opera took place in Moscow on December 25, 2006. The staged premiere in Bregenz four years later made The Passenger a name card of the composer.

From the book by Danuta Gwizdalanka
Mieczysław Wajnberg: kompozytor z trzech światów.
Poznań, Teatr Wielki im. Stanisława Moniuszki, 2013, pp. 44-45.


Act 1
The early 1960s. An ocean liner.
Liese and her husband Walter, a German diplomat, are aboard a cruise liner headed to Brazil. On deck she sees another passenger who she recognizes as someone she once knew, Marta, but believes had died. Liese is suddenly overwhelmed by emotions and surging memories that she confesses to her husband that she was an SS Overseer at Auschwitz. Walter fears a diplomatic scandal. Liese asks the ship’s steward to find out who the woman is and where she comes from. When he soon reports back that she is a British citizen, Liese and Walter are relieved and head to the ship’s ballroom to dance.
1944. Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Again overcome with the horrifying memories of her own past, Liese’s thoughts fly to Auschwitz. She recalls the inhumanity of her fellow SS Officers there.
Marta is among the prisoners. Liese enlists her to help manage the other prisoners, among them women from many countries and religions, and cultures, all of whom are deeply suffering physically and spiritually in the camp. A Kapo finds a note in Polish and Marta is ordered to translate it. Marta recognizes it as a message between members of the resistance and therefore purposefully mistranslates it as a love note to her fiancé Tadeusz in order to protect the sender and recipient of the secret message.
Back on the ship, Liese tells Walter that it was very hard to treat the prisoners with dignity and respect when they so brazenly lied to their captors.
Act 2
1944. Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Liese memories of her experience in the concentration continue. The SS Commander is visiting the camp and has requested that a prisoner play his favorite waltz for his enjoyment. Tadeusz, a prisoner, has been selected to play, and a violin is retrieved from the confiscated goods of the newly arrived prisoners. When is ordered to come collect his instrument, Tadeusz unexpectedly meets Marta and they recognize each other. In an instant, they fall into each other’s arms and recall their lives before the camp – they were in love and engaged to be married. Their short meeting is interrupted by Liese, who notices but allows them to talk privately in violation of the regulations.
Later, as Tadeusz makes jewelry for SS officers in a camp workshop, Liese visits him. In one of the medallions Liese sees a Madonna with the face of Marta. In an effort to do something kind, Liese offers to let her set up a meeting between him and Marta, but Tadeusz refuses, not wishing to be indebted to Liese, or possibly endangering Marta in any way.
As Marta celebrates her 20th birthday, Liese informs her that Tadeusz has refused to meet her. Marta is certain Tadeusz had a good reason.
The wardens read out a list of female prisoners sentenced to death. Although Marta´s number hasn’t been called she wants to join the doomed. But Liese stops her: Marta will indeed be punished, but first she must hear Tadeusz’s concert.

The ocean liner.
Liese and Walter decide to forget about the past. Liese cannot be guilty for what happened as she was only doing her duty. She tried to be kind and compassionate, but the prisoners rejected her. She is therefore not responsible for her actions. They go out to dance. Liese suddenly sees Marta speaking the band, apparently making a request for the next song. To Liese’s horror, the band begins to play the Auschwitz Commander’s favorite waltz, and the memories flood back…
Officers gather for the concert. Tadeusz is ordered to play the Commander’s favorite waltz but instead he quietly rebels, choosing instead to play Bach’s Chaconne. The music breaks off abruptly when officers smash Tadeusz’s violin and drag him to his death.
The Passenger is alone in her cabin. Remembering the past, she hopes that none of the victims will ever be forgotten.