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June 03, 2014

Lincoln Center Festival and Park Avenue Armory Co-Present Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Holocaust Opera, The Passenger, Based on the Work of Zofia Posmysz, July 10, 12, 13

Lincoln Center Festival


Eileen McMahon 212-875-5391

[email protected]





Free Screening of Andrzej Munk’s film and panel discussions complement the performances


The Passenger, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s uncompromising 1968 opera about the Holocaust set to a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and based on the book The Passenger by Polish writer and concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz, will have its New York premiere July 10, 12, and 13 in a co-production of Lincoln Center Festival and Park Avenue Armory. The Houston Grand Opera production, directed by David Pountney, will be performed on an enormous, multi-tiered set that takes full advantage of the scale of the Armory’s soaring Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Posmysz will travel to New York from Poland to attend the premiere and participate in two panel discussions. 


Single tickets for The Passenger are available through CenterCharge at 212.721.6500, online at and at the Avery Fisher Hall box office, 65th Street and Broadway.


To enable audience members to get a fuller grasp of this complex, emotional piece, Lincoln Center will host a free film screening and panel discussion.


FREE FILM SCREENING: July 8, 6 pm, in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse (165 W. 65th Street, 10th floor). This unfinished Polish-language film won a FIPRESCI award at the Cannes Festival. It offers a different take on the same Zofia Posmysz source material that inspired the opera. Immediately following the screening, Lincoln Center President Jed Bernstein will lead a panel discussion with Ms. Posmysz, Holocaust survivors Esther Bauer and Sam Cukier, and others.


FREE PANEL DISCUSSION: July 11, 6 pm, Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse (165 W. 65th Street, 10th floor). Ms. Posmysz joins Houston Grand Opera dramaturg Menna Hanna and Houston Grand Opera artistic and music director Patrick Summers for a panel discussion.


Tickets are required to attend the screening and panel discussions and are available for The Passenger ticketholders.


Lincoln Center Festival is sponsored by American Express.


The enormous, multi-tiered set for The Passenger will take full advantage of the scale of the Armory’s soaring Wade Thompson Drill Hall where in 2008 Lincoln Center Festival presented Pountney’s production of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s opera Die Soldaten (“an alarming spectacle,” The New Yorker) in association with the Armory.


Set in the late 1950s, the opera depicts a German couple, Liese and Walter, on board an ocean liner where Liese, a former SS officer, thinks she recognizes among their fellow passengers one of her prisoners at Auschwitz. Juxtaposed with scenes on board the luxury ship are flashbacks to the dark underworld where she once wielded control. Liese is never able to confirm whether the woman she sees is truly Marta, the Polish prisoner she once manipulated, and The Passenger makes no attempt at closure or reconciliation. Instead, the harsh and complex realities of the mass murder Liese helped perpetrate, and of her inescapable guilt, are unsparingly confronted.


The Passenger was described as “a perfect masterpiece” by Dmitri Shostakovich, mentor to Weinberg, the Polish-Jewish composer who escaped Poland to live in the Soviet Union during WWII. The opera was censored by the Soviet establishment and never performed in Weinberg’s lifetime. It has been championed by veteran British director David Pountney, who mounted its first full production in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival in Austria, where he is soon finishing his term as artistic director.


The singers will reprise the roles they performed at the U.S. premiere at Houston Grand Opera in January. The leading role is sung by mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt, who premiered the role in Bregenz. Miss Breedt will be joined by Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser, best known for his starring role in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of The Magic Flute, and who last appeared at Lincoln Center Festival in 2002 in Bright Sheng’s opera, The Silver River, and by soprano Melody Moore in the role of Marta.  Patrick Summers will conduct the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The HGO makes its first appearance at Lincoln Center Festival since 1996 when it contributed its production of Virgil Thomson’s and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts, libretto by Gertrude Stein, conceived, designed and directed by Robert Wilson.


As a complement to performances of The Passenger, the ARC Ensemble, eight senior faculty members from The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, will perform three chamber concerts featuring works by composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg in the newly revitalized Board of Officers Room at Park Avenue Armory prior to each performance of the opera. These prelude concerts will be free for The Passenger ticketholders, and will enable audiences to gain a deeper understanding of Weinberg’s considerable oeuvre, which includes over 150 compositions.


Polish-born composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919–96) was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust, escaping Poland in 1939 when Germany invaded. Sadly, his relocation to the Soviet Union only meant a second period of danger and discrimination under Stalin. Many of Weinberg’s works were banned; others, like The Passenger, were deemed “cosmopolitan”— a euphemism for Jewish—and never performed. Today, however, his works are enjoying a posthumous resurgence. He is the subject of the 2010 biography, Mieczyslaw Weinberg: In Search of Freedom, by David Fanning. 


Despite the Soviet suppression of Weinberg’s masterwork, it had the staunch support of Shostakovich, a friend and crucial supporter of the composer.  Shostakovich introduced him to music critic Alexander Medvedev, who would write the libretto for The Passenger. Having heard Weinberg’s completed opera when it went in to rehearsal at the Bolshoi in 1968, Shostakovich wrote in 1974, “I shall never tire of the opera The Passenger by M. Weinberg. I have heard it three times already and have studied the score. Besides, I understood the beauty and enormity of this music better and better on each occasion. It is a perfect masterpiece.” The opera was not heard in concert until 2006 and would not be fully staged until the efforts of David Pountney bore fruit.


Zofia Posmysz was born in Kraków on August 23, 1923. When World War II broke out, she attended a business school. New circumstances caused interruption of her education for some time. To avoid deportation to Germany as a forced laborer, she became a waitress at a German casino, upon directions of the Arbeitsamt (Labor Office). Soon, she resumed classes in an underground school. She read underground bulletins distributed by the students of illegal courses. Owing probably to somebody’s denunciation, the whole group was arrested on April 15, 1942. After a six-week detention, Zofia Posmysz was deported to the female section of the main Auschwitz Camp on May 30, 1942, although she was kept there briefly. One of the female inmates working on the Sola River bank clearing managed to escape and, as a form of oppression, the whole “commando” (labor group) of 200 female inmates to which Ms. Posmysz belonged, was sent to a penalty company, located in the village of Budy near Auschwitz. The women were kept in inhuman conditions, starved and tortured, and first of all, forced to hard labor. They desperately strived to survive. After two months, the group counted only 143 women. They were sent to Birkenau where a female subcamp had been established. Years later, Zofia Posmysz presented that episode of the camp history in her short story, “Sängerin.”


Birkenau was a new stage of her camp ordeal. It started dramatically for her, from contracting typhus and bloody diarrhoea that decimated the inmates (reflected in her short story “The same Doctor M.”), although an unexpected change for better happened: in March 1943, she was transferred to the camp kitchen, and two months later she was given the job of the “szrajber” (bookkeeper). That is when she met Tadeusz Paolone-Lisowski, brought from the male inmate camp to teach her on the bookkeeping job. She wrote about it in her short story entitled “Auschwitz Christ.” In January 1945, in view of the approaching frontline, thousands of the KL Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp were herded into Germany. That “death march,” as it was dubbed later, caused death of a number of inmates that remains unknown until today. The Birkenau female inmates were walking for nearly three days and later transported in open kettle railway cars, in biting frost, to be brought to Ravensbrück. There, as Zofia Posmysz remembered, exhausted women faced another ordeal: they spent three weeks in a kind of tent, sleeping right on the ground. Zofia Posmysz survived in the Neustadt-Glewe subcamp until she was liberated by the allies on May 2, 1945. Although she was persuaded to remain in the zone controlled by the allied troops, she decided rather to return to her homeland. Together with a group of twenty female companions, she decided to walk back home (that was depicted in her story: “To Freedom, to Death, to Life”). She arrived in Kraków by the end of May. She found only her mother and younger brother at home. Her father (a railroad man) had been killed by a German Bahnschutz (railroad policeman) in August 1943 of which she learned only after her arrival at home. Her elder married sister lived in Warsaw. Zofia Posmysz decided to travel to her sister to find a job and continue education. She passed her secondary school examinations in 1946 and started her course of study at the Polish Department of the University of Warsaw. At the same time, she worked as a proof-reader in a newspaper. By the end of her studies, she started to co-operate with the literary section of the Polish Radio.


In 1950, she wrote a radio drama entitled “The Passenger of Cabin 45.” That piece was decisive for her literary career. The reaction to the drama caused that soon the work was adopted for a TV performance, and the outstanding director, Andrzej Munk, decided to shoot the film entitled “The Passenger.” The film, with the extraordinary role of Liza, played by Aleksandra Slaska, was released after the director’s death in 1963. A year before, “The Passenger” appeared in a book form. That novel was used in 1968 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg to compose an opera to the libretto by Alexander Medvedev. The world premiere was staged at the Bregenz Festival in 2010 and it became a great artistic event. Besides, it reinforced the position of “The Passenger” as one of the crucial works concerning concentration camps. It was so unique and exceptional because it integrated two usually separate perceptions of the war drama: those of “the oppressor and the victim.”


The fame of “The Passenger” was slightly obscured by the author’s later equally important works, e.g. her novels: “Vacation on the Adriatic,” “Microclimate,” or “The Price,” as well as her short stories and a number of radio-drama and film scripts, or other works on current issues. The story “Auschwitz Christ,“ being an extension of one of the episodes of “The Passenger,” is undoubtedly one of the most important elements presented by that outstanding writer and remarkable woman as witness accounts.


In addition to his position at the Bregenz Festival, English director David Pountney serves as chief executive and artistic director of Welsh National Opera.  His honors include a CBE and France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.  Of the 2010 Bregenz Festival premiere of The Passenger, The New York Times reported, “The work was brilliantly served by David Pountney’s production. Johan Engels’s two-level set, with the ship above and the camp below—bleakly characterized by railroad tracks and wooden bunks—facilitated the shift in action from one to the other. Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s realistic costumes, which dressed all those on board ship in white, heightened the contrast.”


Following the Bregenz Festival premiere, The Passenger was also seen at Teatr Weikli in Warsaw and in London, where the critical response was overwhelming. The Telegraph recognized that “in Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Holocaust opera The Passenger, we have one of the most unflinching engagements with this subject ever made.” The Times of London agreed: “It’s an opera teeming with overt references, from haunting Russian folksong to blaring German marches, as well as astringent string writing reminiscent of Britten…. A compelling historical document that demanded an airing— lest we forget,” while The Independent pronounced it “the most significant opera composed in the Russian language since Prokofiev’s War and Peace.” At the U.S. premiere at Houston Grand Opera, The Houston Chronicle praised its “ingenious storytelling, potent music, commanding performances and vivid, fast-paced staging.”

The Passenger performance schedule: July 10, 12, and 13 at 7:30 pm*


*Each performance is preceded by a 45-minute chamber concert (from 6 - 6:45 pm) featuring works by Mieczyslaw Weinberg performed by members of ARC Ensemble. Pre-performance chamber music concerts are free, however tickets are required and available only to ticket-holders for The Passenger.



The Passenger

An opera by

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Libretto by Aleksandr Medvedev

After the Novel by Zofia Posmysz

Performed in English, with translation from the original languages by David Fanning and David Pountney

Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus


Liese: Michelle Breedt

Walter: Joseph Kaiser

Marta: Melody Moore

Tadeusz: Morgan Smith

Katya: Kelly Kaduce

Bronka: Kathryn Day


Creative team:

Conductor: Patrick Summers

Director: David Pountney

Set Designer: Johan Engels

Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca

Lighting Designer: Fabrice Kebour

Fight Director: Leraldo Anzaldúa

Associate Director: Rob Kearley

Chorus Master: Richard Bado

The Passenger running time: approximately three hours, with one intermission


The Lincoln Center Festival 2014 presentation of ARC Ensemble is made possible in part by generous support from the Polska Music Program of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.


Lincoln Center Festival gratefully acknowledges the Polish Cultural Institute New York for its support in bringing Zofia Posmysz to New York for the performances of The Passenger and to participate in the panel discussions. 


Co-presented by Lincoln Center Festival and Park Avenue Armory


The Lincoln Center Festival 2014 presentation of The Passenger is made possible in part by generous support from the Polska Music Program of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Robert and Helen Appel, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Larry A. and Klara Silverstein, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, Nancy & Morris W. Offit, and One Anonymous.


Additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.


The Passenger is a co-production of Bregenzer Festispiele, Teatr Wielki, English National Opera and Teatro Real. 


Houston Grand Opera’s performances of The Passenger in New York are generously underwritten by Bill and Sara Morgan and Amanda and Morris Gelb.


Additional support provided by Robin Angly & Miles Smith, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joyce Z. Greenberg, Houston First Corporation, Houston Methodist, Schlumberger, Rhonda and Donald Sweeney, and Phoebe and Bobby Tudor.


Lincoln Center Festival single tickets are available through CenterCharge at 212.721.6500, online at and at the Avery Fisher Hall box office, 65th Street and Broadway.


Since its inaugural season in 1996, Lincoln Center Festival has received worldwide attention for presenting some of the broadest and most original performing arts programs in Lincoln Center’s history. Entering its 19th year, the Festival will have presented nearly 1,322 performances of opera, music, dance, theater, and interdisciplinary forms by internationally acclaimed artists from more than 50 countries. To date, the Festival has commissioned more than 42 new works and offered some 139 world, U.S., and New York premieres. It places particular emphasis on showcasing contemporary artistic viewpoints and multidisciplinary works that challenge the boundaries of traditional performance.


Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA) serves three primary roles: presenter of artistic programming, national leader in arts and education and community relations, and manager of the Lincoln Center campus. A presenter of more than 3,000 free and ticketed events, performances, tours, and educational activities annually, LCPA offers 15 series, festivals, and programs including American Songbook, Avery Fisher Artist Program, Great Performers, Lincoln Center Books, Lincoln Center Dialogue, Lincoln Center Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Lincoln Center Vera List Art Project, Midsummer Night Swing, Martin E. Segal Awards, Meet the Artist, Mostly Mozart Festival, Target Free Thursdays, and the White Light Festival, as well as the Emmy Award-winning Live From Lincoln Center, which airs nationally on PBS. As manager of the Lincoln Center campus, LCPA provides support and services for the Lincoln Center complex and the 11 resident organizations.  In addition, LCPA led a $1.2 billion campus renovation, completed in October 2012. 


Lincoln Center is committed to providing and improving accessibility for people with disabilities. For information, call the Department of Programs and Services for People with Disabilities at (212) 875-5375.


Part palace, part industrial shed, Park Avenue Armory fills a critical void in the cultural ecology of New York City by enabling artists to create—and audiences to experience—unconventional work that cannot be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums.  With its soaring 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall—reminiscent of 19th century European train stations—and array of exuberant period rooms, the Armory offers a new platform for creativity across all art forms.  Since its first production in September 2007—Aaron Young’s Greeting Card, a 9,216-square-foot “action” painting created by the burned-out tire marks of ten choreographed motorcycles—the Armory has  presented, commissioned and produced a series of immersive performances, installations, and works of art that have drawn critical and popular attention. Highlights include: Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s harrowing Die Soldaten, in which the audience moved “through the music;” the unprecedented six-week residency of the Royal Shakespeare Company in a replica of their own theater built in the drill hall; a massive digital sound and video environment by Ryoji Ikeda; a sprawling gauzy, multisensory labyrinth created by Ernesto Neto; the event of a thread, a site-specific installation by Ann Hamilton; the final performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company across three separate stages; the New York Philharmonic performing Karlheinz Stockhausen’s sonic masterpiece Gruppen with three orchestras surrounding the audience; and WS, by Paul McCarthy, a monumental installation of fantasy, excess, and dystopia.  The Armory’s 2014 season includes a mix of presentations and commissions that break new ground for artists and audiences.  The season began in March with a series of intimate concerts by British Indie Band The xx, and also includes the U.S. premiere of Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford’s visceral staging of Macbeth; the second annual recital series in the Armory’s exquisitely renovated Board of Officers Room, Peter Sellars’ staging of Bach’s choral masterpiece St. Matthew Passion, a co-production with the Lincoln Center White Light Festival; and the world premiere of the Amory’s sixth major visual art commission, a collaboration between artist Douglas Gordon and pianist Hélène Grimaud. More information on the season is available at


Since its inception in 1955, Houston Grand Opera has grown from a small regional organization into an internationally renowned opera company.  The only American opera company invited to perform at Lincoln Center Festival for a second time, HGO enjoys a reputation for commissioning and producing new works, including fifty world premieres and six American premieres since 1973.  In addition to producing and performing opera at the highest artistic level, HGO contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public.  HGO has toured extensively, including trips to Europe and Asia, and it is the only opera company to have won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and two Emmy awards.  HGO’s performances are broadcast nationally over the WFMT Radio Network.




Lincoln Center Festival is sponsored by American Express.


Major support provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Lincoln Center Festival 2014 is also made possible by the Polska Music program of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Robert and Helen Appel, Nancy A. Marks, LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, The Skirball Foundation, Larry A. and Klara Silverstein, The Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Judy & Michael Steinhardt, The Katzenberger Foundation, Inc., The Shubert Foundation, Jennie and Richard DeScherer, The Grand Marnier Foundation, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Brother International Corporation, ITOCHU International Inc., The J.C.C. Fund of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Inc., The Joelson Foundation, Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust, Nancy & Morris W. Offit, Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater, The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Great Performers Circle, Producers Circle, Chairman’s Council, Friends of Lincoln Center, and One Anonymous.


Public support for Festival 2014 is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Endowment support for Festival 2014 is provided by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Nancy Abeles Marks


Artist Catering provided by Zabar’s and


MetLife is the National Sponsor of Lincoln Center


Bloomberg is the Official Sponsor of Lincoln Center Summer Programs


Movado is an Official Sponsor of Lincoln Center


United Airlines is the Official Airline of Lincoln Center


WABC-TV is the Official Broadcast Partner of Lincoln Center


William Hill Estate Winery is the Official Wine of Lincoln Center


“Summer at Lincoln Center” is sponsored by Diet Pepsi


Time Out New York is Media Partner of Summer at Lincoln Center



Lincoln Center

Eileen McMahon

O: 212- 875-5391

M: 917-885-3669

[email protected]


Park Avenue Armory

Isabel Sinistore

Resnicow Schroeder Associates

O: 212-671-5175

[email protected]

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Twitter: #LCFestival




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