Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, whose parents and sister perished in the camps, never saw this opera performed, due to his death prior to production. Though he finished composing The Passenger in 1968, the premier was not until 2010 in Austria.
At the open, one sees a spectacular set of the top level of the aforementioned ocean liner. Everything is stark white, from the smokestack to the ice bucket. The woman "who saw a ghost," Liese, magnificently acted and sung by Daveda Karanas, is in her stateroom with her husband Walter,sung by David Danholt, who manages to convey the smarminess as well as the panic that would ensue if Liese's secret were to be divulged to the authorities. She admits everything to him about her past, which she had kept to herself throughout their marriage. At first shocked, he realizes the repercussions such a disclosure could have on the advancement of his government position and promises to abide by Liese's wishes to keep everything quiet, because, after all, "the past is in the past."
At this point the bottom half of the set revolves and, while the upper ocean liner remains stationary, we find ourselves in the women's barracks at Auschwitz. Under glaring light we meet several of the prisoners who all have stories to tell, in their native languages. This is very impressive, giving what they are singing and saying an immediacy that makes us forget that we are hearing an opera and make us feel as though we are eavesdropping on forbidden discussions.
Did Liese really see Marta, the lady in white she thought she recognized? In her past reveries, Marta, sung and acted by the astonishing Adrienn Miksch, allows us into the day to day monotony, fears and atrocities of life in the concentration camp.
The ending left me wondering if, indeed, the woman was Marta or, in spite of all of Liese's protestations of how she did what was expected of her and did it well, her guilt was getting the best of her and, psychologically, it was her time to have her own private hell.
Everything about this performance has gelled magnificently. The set is a massive, imposing character, designed by the late Johan Engels. As you can imagine, lighting is paramount and bravo to Fabrice Kebour for the realistic work.
To call the music thrilling is an understatement. Many have compared Weinberg's work to Shostakovich, but I personally found it more melodic and "peaceful." Conducted by the brilliant Steven Mercurio, the Florida Grand Opera plays the difficult score thrillingly.
Originally directed by David Poutney, he again is at the reins and manages to direct this enormous cast, to a person, to walk a certain way to show their exhaustion, to click, Nazi-style, with their frightening footwear, in a way that is realistic and sometimes disturbing.
The Arsht is a major venue in Miami. We also have the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale as well as the Kravis in West Palm Beach. At the sold-out performance of The Passenger that I attended, throughout the three hour and 15 minute performance, one could hear the proverbial pin drop. A superb, sophisticated audience who knows how to behave. Lauderdale and West Palm audiences, take note!
The Passenger runs through April 9, 2016, Florida Grand Opera, in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL. For tickets and information, call 305-949-6722 or 1-800-741-1010 or visit www.frgo.org.