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Opera in two acts, eight scenes and an epilogue
Libretto by Alexander Medwedew based on the novel (1962) by Zofia Posmysz
First staged performance of the work July 19 2010, Bregenz Festival
(premiere of this production: March 1 2015)
Sung in several languages with English & German surtitles
ca. 3 hours, including 1 interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance
Transatlantic Liner 1960. Lisa is travelling to Brazil with her husband Walter, a German diplomat at the height of his career. Lisa sees another passenger who looks like someone she was certain had died – Marta. She is so disturbed by memories that come flooding back that she confesses to Walter that she was a warder in Auschwitz during the war. This revelation rocks their marriage. Walter fears a possible diplomatic scandal. Lisa asks a steward to find out where the woman comes from. 1944. Morning roll call in the concentration camp. Three bored SS men exchange cynical remarks about the prisoners. Lisa selects a female Polish inmate to help her. It is Marta. Barracks Women from all over Europe find themselves in the female barracks. An overseer finds a note written in Polish. Marta is to translate it, out loud. To protect the resistance movement, she pretends it is a love letter to her fiancé, Tadeusz. Act II Storeroom Women are sorting through other prisoner's personal effects. An SS man is looking for a violin. A prisoner is to play the Commandant's favourite waltz at a concert in the camp. This prisoner is Tadeusz. He is sent to fetch the violin. He sees Marta. Lisa breaks the rules and allows them to meet. Workshop Tadeusz makes jewellery in the workshop for SS officers. Lisa enters and finds a medallion featuring the Madonna, with Marta's face. She offers him another chance to meet Marta. Tadeusz refuses. He does not want to be in debt to Lisa. Barracks Marta's 20th birthday. The prisoners wish her freedom. Marta sings a song about death. Lisa finds Marta's roses from Tadeusz. She starts to provoke her by telling her that Tadeusz refused another chance to meet her. Marta remains calm, trusting Tadeusz completely. Yvette is teaching French to Bronka, a Russian inmate. Katja sings a song about Russia. A voice is heard, the Selektion (list of the next people to be executed) is being read out. Lisa has spared Marta so that she can attend Tadeusz' concert. Transatlantic Liner Lisa and Walter decide to forget the past. They go to dance in the saloon. The female passenger makes a request. The Commandant's favorite waltz is played. Concert Tadeusz plays Bach's Chaconne instead of the Commandant's waltz. His violin is destroyed as he is taken away. Epilogue Marta is alone, thinking about Tadeusz and her friends. She hopes that all those who suffered and lost their lives in the camp will never be forgotten.
»If I survived when others did not, then it is to lay witness to what Auschwitz was.« Said Zofia Posmysz, author of The Passagierin, to a group of school children. The story of the book and opera: Lisa, wife of a new German Ambassador, is confronted with long surpressed events in the past, on a liner to Brasil: she, a former guard in a concentration camp, thinks she recognises a prisoner, Marta, with whom she had an unusual relationship. She was directly responsible for the death of Marta's friend Tadeusz.
The Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg, who fled from the SS to the Soviet Union, where he nearly fell foul of the Stalinist system, found a protector and supporter in Dmitri Shostakovitch, who suggested that Zofia Posmysz's novel might be a good idea for an opera. In the last ten years the work has been performed in many theatres. This Frankfurt production directed by Anselm Weber, with which the company enjoyed great success on tour to the Festwochen in Vienna, is being performed at the Semper Opera in Dresden from June 24th 2017.