|The Cast of Out of Darkness
Single droplets of instrumental notes slowly meld into a haunting flow of melody that evokes a memory of another time, another place. The stunning music alerts that what is to follow is intimate, intense, and important. From such beginnings, two stories of survivors — survivors of the most abhorrent tragedy humans have ever conceived and executed against other, innocent people – unfold in the soul-shattering music of Jake Heggie and in the poetic words of Gene Scheer in Music of Remembrance’s world premiere, Out of Darkness.
|Ava Pine, Caitlin Lynch, Michael Mayes & Catherine Cook
Krystyna Zywulska opens Act One, simply entitled “Krystyna,” sitting at a typewriter and staring at a reel-to-reel tape recorder, debating with herself whether to tell her story of her Auschwitz nightmare. Imprisoned there as a Polish dissident and active member of the Resistance, she survived by becoming a song writer and using her much-loved lyrics set to tunes familiar to all around her in order to help herself and others face yet another day of hell on earth. As she argues furiously to herself, “I don’t need to say nothing anymore … It’s just words,” the memories she is trying to block begin to come to life all around her – herself as a teenager in the camp and two friends, Zosha and Manfred. Their urging her not to forget them helps her slowly to have the courage to recall both their former, good moments together as well as the inexplicably horrible ones.
|Zosha (Catherine Cook) & Krysia (Ava Pine) in Duet
With crystal clarity in her sweet and innocent soprano voice, Ava Pine sings the poetic lyrics Krysia once wrote, words that often tell of her search for anything that can remind her of the world outside her horrendous surroundings. To her friend Zosha (Catherine Cook), she recalls, “Last night I heard a skylark song,” leading the two of them to sing longingly in a heart-touching duet of “a song of flight … a song of love … a song of freedom … not of cages.” Ms. Cook’s rich mezzo soprano time and again tells her own sad story with such depth of purpose and poise, and yet she also brings welcomed moments of teenage silliness and defiance as she plays forbidden solitaire with a smirk on her otherwise pain-filled face.
|Michael Mayes as Manfred & Robert Orth as Gad
Manfred returns in “Gad,” Act Two of Out of Darkness, this time in a dream of Gad Beck, one of tens of thousand gay men sent to Hitler’s camps under a German 1874 law (Paragraph 175) that remained on the books until 1994, long after World War II and the Holocaust. Sixty years prior, Gad and Manfred had been lovers until the Nazis shattered their world and sent Manfred and his family to Auschwitz. Now as tired, old Gad retires to his bed, his sleep is interrupted by the still-nineteen, still-handsome-as-ever Manfred, who evocatively, plaintively sings, “Do you remember? Do you remember when night was for more than sleep? Oh my love, my love.”
|Michael Mayes as Manfred
What we saw and heard in a glimpse in Act One of Michael Mayes as Manfred now becomes a tour de force performance in Act Two where he is the sole singer, bringing a range of vocals astounding to behold. He playfully flirts in lilted notes full of tease the aged Gad (and even mounts Gad’s bed with chest bare and hips pumping). But he also recalls in a powerful voice that strikes like a lightning bolt the screams of an eighteen-year-old’s death and of his own pain and terror being strung up on poles in “Der Singende Wald” (“the singing forest). When he finally utters in shaking voice how the horrors were “beyond comprehension,” that final word is sung with such a vibration of feelings to send shutters through the audience.
Erich Parce directs these two stories with much understanding of how to be respectful of the memories of these real people and yet fully representative of the horrors they and thousands of others faced. He is greatly aided by the projections of David Murakami, who brings to full life the scenes recounted with pictures of Auschwitz then and now, of a prisoner line-up that slowly moves in to focus on one of the six million, and of raindrops that fall like heaven’s tears in hearing the pained memories. Matthew Antaky’s simple scenic touches and his powerful lighting decisions zero in with much added meaning to the words and lyrics of the opera.