Is Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 'The Passenger' Only Holocaust Opera 'Worth Watching'

Violin Virtuoso Linus Roth Is Polish Composer's Biggest Fan

Horror Show: ‘The Passenger’ takes place in part on board a ship where a former Nazi officer recognizes a prisoner from Auschwitz.
catherine ashmore
Horror Show: ‘The Passenger’ takes place in part on board a ship where a former Nazi officer recognizes a prisoner from Auschwitz.

By Reuters

Published March 04, 2014.
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For example, he said, “The Passenger” - an eclectic mix of musical styles as well as subtle plotting based on a novel by concentration camp survivor Zofia Posmysz - is “probably the only opera about the Holocaust that’s really worth watching.”

Roth saw the production at Austria’s Bregenz Festival. “The music is really amazing and it’s completely touching,” he said.

The composer’s Shostakovich connection - they lived near each other in Moscow and were in frequent contact up until the Russian’s death in 1975 - is another reason Roth holds up to say the world should have a second look at Weinberg.

“Shostakovich played every piece, before going to print, for Weinberg, to get his okay, until he died,” Roth said, adding that Weinberg’s music showed his neighbour’s influence. “That shows how highly he valued Weinberg as a composer.”

TRANSPARENCY AND BEAUTY

A life of such tragedy and hardship inevitably resounds in Weinberg’s music, but Roth insists it’s not all depressing.

“There are moments of beauty that he found in all this,” he said. “I am sometimes reminded of Schubert because it’s so transparent and actually simple melodies - not the harmonies, which have nothing to do with Schubert, but the transparency and beauty, the simple beauty.”

Knowing so much about Weinberg’s life has made it grow on him as he rehearses and performs it, Roth said.

“For me, Weinberg is somebody I can have a conversation with, more or less, when I play his music. I know so much about him and his music, I have so much empathy for him and his life … so it feels like a friend.”

Does such a focus mean Roth risks becoming known as “that German violinist who does Weinberg”?

“I mean, I do play Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and other things - Britten, for example,” he said, referring to the British composer’s violin concerto coupled on his Challenge Classics recording with Weinberg’s concerto. “I love this piece.”


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