Musical ‘masterpiece’ captures horror of Auschwitz concentration camp
Opera based on novel by a Catholic death camp survivor and composed by a Polish Jew comes to Britain at last
An Auschwitz survivor who wrote a novel based on her experiences in the camp has told the Observer that only the opera based on her book,which is due to have its UK premiere at the English National Opera this week, can adequately capture the horror of her time there.
Zofia Posmysz, a devout Catholic, was arrested aged 18 and tortured by the Gestapo before being sent to the death camp for “three years and 21 days”, merely for being with someone carrying Polish resistance leaflets. She said only her faith gave her the courage to survive, despite suffering the “greatest extremes of degradation”.
Her semi-autobiographical novel, The Passenger, inspired the Polish-Jewish composer Mieczysław Weinberg to write the opera, which he completed in 1968. Despite being hailed by the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich as a “perfect masterpiece”, the opera was banned by the Soviet Union and it did not receive its world premiere until it was staged in Bregenz, Austria, last year.
I can’t say that opera has ever really appealed to me, but this sounds like it is something quite special. The Passenger opens at the Coliseum, London, on 19th Sept for eight performances - for further details see eno.org and if you are interested in reading more about Zofia Posmysz’s story, then click here.