Four questions with Rob Kearley

Rob Kearley is revival director of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Holocaust-themed opera, The Passenger, which runs November 14-22 at the Detroit Opera House.


Why is this opera important for 21st century audiences?

The Passenger is unique in operatic terms in that the story and the music are written by those directly affected by these events. Zofia Posmysch [author of the novel upon which the opera is based] survived two years and ten months as a prisoner in the camps: Weinberg fled the Nazi invasion of Warsaw on foot and lost his family to the Holocaust. Though not a strictly historically accurate story, The Passenger is nonetheless an important witness document to the atrocities of the second world war; stimulating discussion and bringing the memory of these events and those who suffered to the forefront.

Photo: Rob Kearley (L) directing rehearsal with tenor Marian Pop,
who sings the role of Tadeusz. (Photo John Grigaitis)

Tell us about the opera’s themes.

Posmysch herself says that it is not for her to judge those who carried out the Nazi atrocities, but to make sure those who suffered are not forgotten. That remains the fundamental theme of the piece. The piece also explores the incredible strength of the human spirit.


Could you briefly describe how this opera was brought from obscurity to the stage?

The publishers, Peer Music, first came across the score – unperformed since its composition – and sent details of the piece round to various opera houses for consideration, including to David Pountney, then Intendant of the Bregenz Festival in Austria. David had heard of Weinberg’s work and took a closer look at the piece and Weinberg’s output as a composer as a whole. It was David’s determination and the courage of the board at Bregenz and the production partners (which included the Warsaw Opera, English National Opera, and Houston Grand Opera) which brought this piece finally to the stage in Austria in 2010.


How would you describe the opera’s music?

The music of the opera is dramatically very descriptive – sometimes brutal, sometimes tender, large in scale and at times intensely intimate. Posmysch says that of all the depictions of Auschwitz she has known in art, music, film or drama, this opera comes closest to describing the experience.

Learn more about The Passenger.