Chicago and Houston to stage Holocaust opera scorned by most London critics

Chicago and Houston to stage Holocaust opera scorned by most London critics


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2014

When David Pountney staged Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger at English National Opera in September 2011, most of the London critics reached deep into their dictionaries of scorn.  Mine was one of few voices that argued for the importance of the work, not as a holocaust memento but as a masterwork of modern opera. 

Since then, The Passenger has been staged in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The big news is that Houston Grand Opera is to stage the US premiere tonight in a production that Chicago Lyric Opera will share in 2015. The show will also travel to the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. Start queuing now.

The Passenger by Mieczyslaw Weinberg


  • Thank you, Norman! Chicago’s will differ from Houston in that it will be the polyglot version (with English surtitles) that David Pountney prepared for the Bregenz 2010 world première and Houston will use the English-language libretto. Chicago will also have an “almost entirely different” cast, according to Lyric. The current Houston production will then play New York City this July as a co-presentation of the Park Avenue Armory and the Lincoln Center Festival! Phew!

  • The libretto is by Alexander Medvedev. One of the most delightful things I learned recently was that Medvedev – ‘Bear’ in Russian – means ‘He who knows where the honey is’. Apparently, it’s a good work. Glad to see there’s a modern opera besides Written on Skin that has legs.

  • harold braun says:

    Weinberg is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.We just did a fantastic first performance production of his opera “The Idiot”here in Mannheim.It is an absolutely gripping piece,musically even stronger than The Passenger!It’s been recorded for broadcast performance on Feb.23,and hopefully it may also appear on CD.Come to Mannheim and have a spellbinding experience!

  • Alison says:

    “most of the London critics reached deep into their dictionaries of scorn”

    The only thing that surprises me is that anyone takes any notice in the first place. Same for films.

    • Halldor says:

      Alison, have a look at the reviews filed on The Opera Critic. Many of the London critics are enthusiastic, quite a few are welcoming albeit with a few reasonable reservations, only one remotely comes close to Norman’s description – and that’s from the Telegraph, whose opera critic is notorious for his automatic haut-en-bas disdain for anything that takes him out of his gala-night comfort zone. I fear Norman has fallen here into the old musicians’ habit of regarding anything that isn’t an unqualified rave as a slating. Weinberg got a good production and a very rounded critical appraisal in London, IMHO.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Thanks to Norman L. for posting this. Tickets for the forthcoming performance for the Lincoln Center Festival in July, 2014, it turns out, go on sale to the general public this coming Tuesday, 21 January.

  • Perryn Leech says:

    I can report that the American premiere of the work last night was very well recieved in Houston and many people new to opera found the piece absorbing on a musical and intellectual level. Most agree that the piece is a significant work that David Pounteney has brought to the attention of the opera world

    Perryn Leech – Managing Director HGO