Opera can tell a story in a way no other musical composition can. The level of emotional intensity opera achieves in its mix of lofty vocals and orchestral accompaniment makes it an ideal format for telling tragic but heroic tales of Holocaust survival. Such is the case with Music of Remembrance’s spring concert, “Another Sunrise.”
Now in its 14th year, Music of Remembrance produces commissioned works related to the Holocaust and revives compositions created by artists during that time. “Another Sunrise” features a commissioned work by MOR from composers Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. According to MOR’s founder and artistic director Mina Miller, Heggie and Scheer are perhaps the most important team creating opera and musical drama pieces today, having penned such works as “Moby Dick” and “Dead Man Walking.”
“Their work is extraordinary,” Miller says, “We’ve been waiting for this new piece, ‘Another Sunrise,’ for some time.”
Heggie’s and Scheer’s libretto is based on the story of Krystyna Zywulska, a survivor of Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto.
In 1942, Zywulska walked out of the Warsaw Ghetto in broad daylight with her mother and was later arrested by the Nazis. Because at the time of her arrest she had been working with the Polish Underground, the Nazis sent her toAuschwitz as a political prisoner — not as a Jew. She had worked for the resistance under a Christian name and false identity, and during her time in Auschwitz no one knew she was Jewish. She began to write satiric poems about her experience, which were adopted by the prisoners as anthems.
During her entire imprisonment in the camp, Zywulska worked hard to hide her Jewish identity. Zywulska catalogued people’s belongings as they entered the camp — a “safe job,” as Miller describes it — given to her to “save the camp poet.”
“The piece is about her day to day survival of her experience in occupied Poland,” says Miller of “Another Sunrise.”
This work is intended to challenge the audience to confront Krystyna Zywulska’s moral dilemma, as well as celebrate her poems, its authors say.
“I’m particularly inspired by stories of social justice and the inequities of life, and how we are all connected as human beings despite those inequities,” says Heggie. “The full breadth of Krystyna Zywulska’s work as a memoirist, poet and satirist is still being revealed and given new appreciation. Her story cries out to be told through theater and poetry.”
“Telling her story is amazing,” agrees Miller. “And performing it are the finest instrumental performers in Seattle. And the fact that these composers are world-renowned is also amazing.”
Zywulska’s son, Tadeusz Andrzejewski, will attend the concert and accept honors for his mother’s contributions. Germany’s Consul General is coming from San Francisco to attend the concert as well.
In addition to the commissioned opera, the audiences will also hear works by composers Pavel Haas and Syzmon Laks. Through their work, both Haas and Laks, who were persecuted by the Nazis, displayed an intense love for and identity with their native countries. In his suite for oboe and piano, composed just after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Haas expressed a sense of patriotism by incorporating the melody of the St. Wenceslas chorale — the emblematic symbol of Czech musical. Laks’s third string quartet, his first composition after liberation from Auschwitz, revives folk and dance elements from regions of his native Poland.
According to Miller, these pieces are so unique and important to share through MOR “because they celebrate national identities that were assaulted by the Nazis.”
Last but not least in the lineup, the celebrated Northwest Boychoir returns to MOR to sing what Miller called “hauntingly beautiful” Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs in arrangements created by Viktor Ullmann in the Terezín concentration camp.
“There’s something in this program for everyone,” Miller says. “The program is very accessible — one doesn’t need to be timid about attending. Even if you don’t think you like opera, it’s not a typical opera.”