Critics lose their bearings at Holocaust opera

Critics lose their bearings at Holocaust opera


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2011

The range of press opinion on Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger at English National Opera has spanned the gamut from two stars to five.

Much of the negative comment has been subjective and tangential. One review in the Independent dealt mostly with decor. Another in the Financial Times claims the opera ‘makes the frankly unbelievable assumption that Nazi death camp guards were capable of guilt-attacks long after their victims were gassed.’ Has the glib Andrew Clark read none of the vast body of German memoirs and research on Holocaust perpetrators?

The least competent, for me, was Andrew Clements in The Guardian who, after dissing the opera, wrote that ‘Weinberg has become something of a crusade for (director David) Pountney’.

Really? A crusade, Andrew Clements, is when European Christians kill thousands of Jews and Muslims on a rampage towards Palestine. What David Pountney has done is bravely and passionately to expose the ultimate legacy of those original crusades. To call his advocacy a ‘crusade’  is a travesty of English usage and common sense.

A music critic who reads no history, or dictionaries, cannot be trusted.

Deborah Orr, following up in The Guardian, wrote: ‘The Passenger (should) surely now be a landmark vehicle through which even Israel Palestine could be explored.’ Complete loss of critical perspective.


  • James Weller says:

    But, Norman, the best you could come up with was “something very close to a masterpiece”. As I asked under your original post about The Passenger, what does that actually mean?

  • James Weller says:

    But surely a critic needs to say what those reservations were, especially one who accuses others of falling short in their duties? Were the minor reservations you had to do with Weinberg’s harmonic language, a correlation between material and structure, melodic inventiveness, dramatic pace? Or what?

  • ariel says:

    Come ! come ! Mr. Lebrecht all reviews are subjective no matter how much denied being so and to find
    a difference of opinion as “subjective and tangential ” is just playing with words. Your view of this opera
    is based on your personal history and Mr. Clements on his – and if the opera is any good as music and drama
    it will outlive both good and bad reviews .

  • Steven says:

    If we knew everything there is to know about a piece after one hearing, there would be no masterpieces. Mr Lebrecht is absolutely justified in taking the above critics to task for these professional failings. One hopes they would do the same for him when the time comes.

    • ariel says:

      Utter nonsense – we do not read Mr. Lebrecht for his review of other reviewers’ work, we read Mr. Lebrecht
      for his view on what he saw or heard and then his opinion -good or bad . Why would any intelligent person person want to read a review of a review ?It then becomes opinionated gossip . Some critics can discover a masterpiece on first acquaintance some need more time , this is all an exercise which means nothing ,for if we are functioning at all we make up our own minds whether this latest work has any validity to the opera stage .

  • Chris says:

    No doubt Weinberg has chosen the most difficult of subjects. Hollocaust hurts both ways. Not only for the inconceivalbe massive cold blooded crimes, but also for the fact that such crimes have been products, not solely of Nazism, but of an entire culture, which we have done little so far to extinguish from earth. The Passenger tackles with a weakness of our society and therefore can easily cause controversy. I have no idea what it is like as a work or art, but I am curious to find out.