The Passenger – ENO

Hearing the players in the pit getting ready for a performance at the Coliseum reminds me of the limitless potential of the orchestra. It is a rich sonic palette that remains rich with variety and power. Weinberg’s orchestration in ‘The Passenger’ reminded me of Britten – in its use of solo woodwind lines in colouring and accompanying the singing, and pairing of upper woodwind and violins for extended lines. The vibrancy of the tutti sections demonstrated an influence of Shostakovich particular in the prominent use of timpani, piccolo and the upper tessitura in the brass. There was a great deal of appropriate colouring to match the intensity of the drama and the kit and saxophone made the music contemporary with the setting of the plot in the sixties.

The concentration camp scene in the first half had a prominence of the strings – which were often used as a unit to good effect – and there music here was marked by a folk-like simplicity. The vocal writing was conventional with a great deal of the upper notes for the solo sopranos – perhaps worked to better effect in the original language but something of the translation was lost in the highest notes and the rapid passages were less comfortable in English.

I found the pace of the work – so far, as I am yet to hear the second act – suitably expansive. The first scene established the underlying fear of Liese – the diplomat’s wife – at an appropriate pace, with Britten-like woodwind lines accompanying her eventually confronting her past and revealing some of her previous work as an S.S. officer to her husband. The ensuing outrage of him to the discovery of her potentially harmful past is coloured by an exciting orchestral tutti that in no way hindered the delivery of the lines by the singers. Weinberg’s orchestration never shrouded the vocal lines and always allowed them to be heard.

I’m looking forward to the second act – and hope for an increase in pace…

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