The Passenger – masterwork, not masterpiece

The Passenger – masterwork, not masterpiece


norman lebrecht

September 25, 2011

Fiona Maddocks, in her Observer review today of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera, applies a careful – though by no means cautious – distinction between masterwork and masterpiece. She argues that The Passenger is a major work by a master-composer without ever quite convincing the critical spectator that is belongs to the elite cadre of deathless masterpieces.

It’s an important view, and one that I respect and am inclined to share. On the other hand, exactly the same could have been said of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk between its first presentations in the 1930s and its ultimate acclamation 70 years later. I need to see The Passenger again. I have a feeling it will grow and grow.

John Allison, in the Sunday Telegraph, describes it as ‘one of the most unflinching engagements … ever made’ with a Holocaust theme. he gave it five stars. His Telegraph colleague Rupert Christiansen dismissed it with two.

The Editor of the Jewish Chronicle hated every minute of it. All are signs that the work needs time to settle.