Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.

British politician’s domestic abuse


This video from Kenya says about itself:

Activists demonstrate in support of law against domestic abuse

24 July 2014

Civil society workers sent a petition to parliament seeking to protect the Protection against domestic violence bill which they did not want amended.

They wanted appropriate mechanisms for stopping or preventing domestic violence as well as providing effective sanctions and enforcement.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

Domestic abuse MP David Ruffley should face sanction

Friday 25th July 2014

A TORY MP who assaulted his partner should “face strong disciplinary sanction,” women’s rights campaigners said yesterday.

David Ruffley announced last week that his now former partner had accepted an apology for the assault in March.

The Bury St Edmunds MP was let off with a police caution and a Conservative Party spokesman said he believed the case was closed after having been “dealt with at the time by the police.”

But feminist organisation Women’s Aid expressed concern over the whole procedure.

The charity’s chief executive Polly Neate argued that “physical violence in relationships is almost always accompanied by ongoing psychological control and abuse.”

Ms Neate added that she was surprised with the sluggishness of the Conservative Party to address the issue.

“We would expect that a parliamentarian who admitted committing a violent crime would face strong disciplinary sanction,” she said.

Mr Ruffley said he hoped the episode would “remain private” as a sign of respect for his ex-partner.

However Ms Neate pointed out that “domestic violence is a criminal, not a private matter” and that authorities should “take action accordingly.”

In Mr Ruffley’s constituency many have also come out with complaints about the MPs actions arguing his position is now “untenable.”

St Edmundsbury cathedral dean the Reverend Dr Frances Ward sent a letter to Mr Ruffley urging him to step down and arguing that he had “lost the confidence” of his constituents.

She sent copies of the letter dated July 18 to several several Tory frontbenchers — including new Chief Whip Michael Gove.

“It is my belief that you have lost the confidence of a significant proportion of your former supporters,” she wrote.

Dr Ward added that she “received sufficient comment and concern from a wide circle of people, both within the cathedral and through the town and county, to have arrived at the opinion that [Mr Ruffley’s] position is untenable.”

When contacted by the Star, the Conservative Women’s Organisation declined to make an extensive comment, but national chairwoman Niki Molnar labeled the case an “unfortunate incident.”

Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association has brought its annual meeting forward from September to next week given Mr Ruffley’s behaviour.

CIA torture in Poland


This video from the USA is called Secret CIA Black Site Prison In Poland.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Poland assisted US in torture, Europe’s rights court rules

Thursday 24th July 2014

THE European Court of Human Rights ruled today that the Polish government actively assisted a US “black site” programme, which saw detainees tortured in secret prisons.

The Strasbourg court ruled in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah — a Guantanamo detainee who the US has already admitted it mistakenly believed to be a senior member of Al Qaida.

Judges concluded that it was “established beyond reasonable doubt” that Mr Zubaydah had been flown from a secret site in Thailand to another CIA prison in northern Poland.

They described the evidence as “coherent, clear and categorical” and ruled that it was “inconceivable” that Poland had been unaware of his mistreatment.

The ruling means that Poland actively violated the European Convention on Human Rights in failing to stop the “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” of Mr Nashiri and Mr Zubaydah, who were transported to Poland in 2002.

Poland was ordered to pay €100,000 (£79,000) to Mr Nashiri and €130,000 (£103,000) to Zubaydah.

The US has previously acknowledged the existence of its “extraordinary rendition” scheme in the years after the September 11 2001 attacks but has never revealed which of its allies hosted the secret jails.

But the ruling has implications for other European states alleged to have hosted CIA prisons — similar cases have been lodged with the court against Romania and Lithuania.

Mr Nashiri and Mr Zubaydah are still being held in Guantanamo Bay prison camp and the court stated that this ongoing imprisonment without charge amounted to a “flagrant denial of justice.”

British police spied on De Menezes, Lawrence families


This music video is called Roger Waters – The ballad of Jean Charles de Menezes (subtitulado en español).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Police stored information on a relative attending a funeral

Kashmira Gander

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Metropolitan Police secretly held information on 17 grieving families running justice campaigns for murdered family members, a report has revealed.

In his latest report from Operation Herne, investigating the conduct of undercover officers from Scotland Yard’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon said on Thursday that “emerging evidence” showed the Stephen Lawrence Campaign and a number of other families were mentioned in secret records.

This video from Britain is called Stephen Lawrence: Justice For A Murdered Son Part 1.

And this video is the sequel.

The campaigns ranged between 1970 and 2005, and were the result of people who died in police custody, died following police contact, or were murdered, he said.

Officers were in the process of telling the families concerned, and would share the knowledge and information held “where possible”. More families may emerge in time, the document adds.

The relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes are among those implicated. The Brazilian electrician was shot dead by police in 2005 after he was mistaken for a terrorist suspect, and his family are currently considering legal action against Scotland Yard following the report’s findings.

The Stephen Lawrence Campaign, and references to the death of Cherry Groce, which sparked the Brixton riots, and Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1997, were also found.

An account of an unnamed individual planning to attend a funeral was among the information stored, despite the document acknowledging: “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”.

Mr Creedon said the information should not have been retained unless it prevented crime or disorder, and admitted bereaved families are like to find the findings “distressing” and “inexplicable.”

While the report found no evidence that covert operations targeted grieving families or justice campaigns, it heavily criticised the fact that information that had no relevance in preventing crime.

This 23 July 2014 video from Britain is called Police ‘spied on Ricky Reel’s family’.

Sukhdev Reel, who fought for answers about the death of her son Ricky Reel in 1997, told Channel 4 News on Wednesday, prior to the publication of the report: “Rather than them helping us pick up the pieces trying to find out what happened to us they were spying on us.

“I don’t understand it, I just feel I’ve been stripped of my dignity… I feel really angry,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the Jean Charles De Menezes Family Campaign said it was “shameful” that the Metropolitan police had spied on the legitimate campaign activities of a grieving family “who were simply trying to get the answers they deserved after their loved one was killed by police officers.”

Mr Creedon was called in to lead an inquiry into the SDS after a series of allegations were made about the unit, including that officers used the identities of dead children without permission and tricked women into serious sexual relationships.

It was also accused of having infiltrated campaign groups close to the family of murder victim Stephen Lawrence and gathering information to “smear” his relatives.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, from Scotland Yard, stopped short of apologising to the families, but said: “I regret enormously the distress that has been caused.”

He added he had been moved by interviews with Sukhdev Reel, Ricky Reel’s mother.

“There have been a number of families out there for whom this has caused much distress. I was moved by the interviews with Mrs Reel last night, and that’s why it’s so important that we are clear about the facts of what actually happened.

“There are very clear criticisms about what subsequently happened to the information gathered by individual officers, and I am not surprised by that.

“The decision to retain information or not is a challenge and getting the balance right is difficult.”

The next stage of the report that will continue for another year will be an assessment on culture of the SDS and allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families. Intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005 and affected families including those of Jean Charles de Menezes and Stephen Lawrence: here.

THE family of murdered young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes and the bereaved mother of teenager Ricky Reel yesterday condemned undercover spying on their campaigns for justice: here.

See also here.

SUKHDEV REEL’S description of how sick she felt on learning that her family had been spied on by police after the death of her son Ricky is gut-wrenching. The fact that a secret unit in the Metropolitan Police could collect information on campaigns set up by bereaved families displays a previously unimagined level of depravity: here.

‘Flight MH17 disaster should bring peace, not war’


This video from the Netherlands is called Netherlands: MH17 bodies arrive in Hilversum for identification process.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today, about people mourning the flight MH17 disaster in Suriname:

“This kind of event is sky-high above political differences,” says Winston Wirht. He is one of the advisors of the Surinamese president and has just written in the condolence register about his desire that this disaster should bring the world a step closer to peace. “Only then the innocent passengers will not have given their lives for nothing. World peace, it would be so fine. Indeed, we all breathe the same air.”

Unfortunately, not all politicians agree with Mr Wirth. Some are beating the war drums. Dutch ex-NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer abuses the grief about the horrible death of the aircraft passengers, calling for spending more taxpayers’ money on ‘defence’.

While en route from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to Algiers, Algeria a twin-engine passenger plane operated by Air Algérie crashed in northern Mali early Thursday morning with 116 people onboard. It is still unclear, at the time of this writing, what caused the Boeing MD-83 to fall from the sky: here.

“French President François Hollande said there were no survivors found at the site of the Air Algérie crash in Northern Mali, adding that French troops dispatched to the scene had recovered one of the jetliner’s black boxes.” French officials believe weather may be behind the crash that killed 116 people. Weather is also thought to be to blame for the Taiwanese plane crash that killed 48 on Wednesday.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the USA


This video is called Footage of Saudi military convoy entering Bahrain.

From the Belfast Telegraph in Ireland:

All religions are suffering in the Middle East mess

By Eamonn McCann – 23 July 2014

In March 2011, Saudi Arabian tanks rolled into Bahrain to put down a pro-democracy movement demanding fair elections, freedom of speech and an end to imprisonment without trial.

The Saudis made short work of unarmed demonstrators gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of the capital, Manama. An unknown number was killed. Hundreds of injured were ferried to hospitals. Reporters described heavily-armed masked men controlling the entrances and dragging away people arriving by car or ambulance.

Twenty doctors were arrested for “felonies”, including treating the injured, and “treasonous activities”, including giving interviews criticising the crackdown. In September 2012, nine doctors were sentenced by a military tribunal to terms of up to five years.

More than 1,000 workers were sacked and many jailed for trying to form trade unions.

Protests were mounted outside Saudi and Bahraini embassies in many capital cities. A delegation from the International Federation of Journalists tried to hand in a petition to the Bahrain embassy in Brussels protesting against the imprisonment of Bahraini journalists, only to have the door literally slammed in their faces.

A rally at Marble Arch in London marking the second anniversary of the Manama massacre was addressed by exiled members of the Bahraini opposition and spokespersons for the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There was no representation from those who have been choking social media, complaining that opponents of the ethnic cleansing and slaughter of Palestinians do not apply the same standards to Muslim countries which deny democracy as are applied to Israel.

Most of the repressive Muslim-majority States – the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, etc – are in the pro-Western, pro-Israeli camp.

‘Pro-Israeli’ is an ambiguous word here. These repressive governments may often have policies compatible with those of the government of Israel (and the USA, and other NATO countries).

Meanwhile, they are often ‘anti-Israel’: not in the sense of legitimately criticizing Israeli government actions, but in promoting anti-Semitism: hatred of all Jews, not only in Israel but all over the world, pro-Israeli government, anti-Israeli government or undecided.

When a Dutch journalist arrived at his hotel room in the ‘moderate’ ‘pro-western’ Kingdom of Jordan, he found next to his bed on the nightstand a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is an infamous nineteenth century anti-Semitic forgery, not against the government of Israel which did not exist, not against Zionism, but against all Jews. Among its promoters were the government of Czarist Russia, United States cars millionaire Henry Ford, and nazi Germany.

In pro-Western Saudi Arabia, the royal government promotes the Protocols.

So did another pro-Western monarch, the late Shah of Iran. During his reign, an Iranian translation of the Protocols was published. In an interview, the Shah expressed his belief in a ‘Jewish conspiracy’.

Throughout the Bahrain events, neither the US nor any of its allies did anything more than mumble. The reason is plain: Bahrain is an oil-rich state, it houses the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet which patrols the Gulf on 24-hour alert for any indication of challenge to US client states, and is an increasingly important hub for global finance.

In November 1990, President George HW Bush and his wife, Barbara, travelled to Saudi Arabia with a clutch of Congressional leaders to celebrate Thanksgiving with the 400,000 US troops then stationed in the country. When the Saudi authorities learned that the president intended to say grace before the Thanksgiving dinner, they told him there’d be none of that Christian nonsense here.

German government okays spying on USA, Britain


This video is called ‘Third Strike’ Gets Top US Spy Booted From Germany.

Translated from the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily in Germany:

July 23, 2014 18:30

Intelligence: Berlin wants to monitor allied intelligence services

In the future, counterintelligence should also include friendly countries: According to information from Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR television, the Federal Government has decided to observe US American and British intelligence on German soil as well.

By Christoph Hickmann and Georg Mascolo, Berlin

In the future, the federal government also wants to monitor allied intelligence services in Germany. After months of discussions, the Chancellor’s Office, Interior and Foreign Ministry agreed according to information from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR on this project. The so-called 360-degree view will allow it to keep also American and British agents on German soil in view. So far, counterintelligence of the German Verfassungsschutz secret service was especially against the Russians, Chinese and Iranians.

The decision, said to have been reached by the Chancellor’s Office Minister Peter Altmaier, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, (both CDU party) and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), is regarded as a direct response to recent revelations of espionage allegations against the United States secret service CIA.

An employee of the German secret service BND has already confessed to having worked for two years for the United States as an agent; a suspect employee of the German Defense Ministry denies such accusations vehemently. The boss of the CIA station in Berlin has by now been forced to leave Germany because of these incidents.

Germany begins spying on Britain and America for the first time since 1945. Government responds to a series of spy scandals which began last year with revelations that the NSA had bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone: here.