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Naxos Record Label – Naxos: The #1 independent classical music distributor in the U.S. and Canada; specializing in state-of-the-art physical & digital distribution services, marketing and promotion. Celebrating 25 years in 2012.
Release Date: 2014-05-27


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Out of Darkness - An Opera of Survival by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer


Jake Heggie is one of the today's outstanding composers. He has written many fine works and is perhaps this country’s greatest living opera composer. Heggie made a big splash with Moby Dick and was greatly praised for Dead Man Walking. Working again with his long-standing librettist, Gene Scheer, he has produced a stunning work based on the Holocaust. The opera is set in three half-hour sections, each more closely resembling a song cycle than an act from an opera.

The first section entitled, Another Sunrise, closely resembles a horrific song cycle based on the life of Krystyna Zywulska, a Polish Jew who hid her identity and worked in the underground resistance until she was caught by the Gestapo in 1943. She was sent to Auschwitz, not as a Jew but as a political prisoner. Zywulska started writing lyrics for songs of protest and survival. She was given a premium position in the personal effects room because of her poetry. When new inmates arrived, she helped sort their belongings before they were gassed. Zywulska , forced to do the unthinkable, survived by stealing and selling these personal effects. Backed up by a small chamber ensemble, Zywulska is brilliantly portrayed by Caitlin Lynch.

The second section is called Farewell Auschwitz and is based on the lyrics that Zywulska wrote in order to cope with the inhumane conditions in the camp. She wrote lyrics and set them to existing music, from popular sons to classical pieces. The music is a mix of styles of the time, including some paraphrases of Liszt and Chopin. Parts of the work seem almost happy while others tap into the thoughts of those inmates facing intolerable situations. This section is wonderfully sung by the vocal trio of Ms. Lynch, Sarah Larsen and Morgan Smith, again, accompanied by a small chamber ensemble.

For a Look or a Touch is the last section of the work. It is the sensitive and tragic story of two gay lovers (Manfred Lewin and Gad Beck) from Berlin. In Nazi Germany, all that was needed for a gay couple to be held by the authorities was to have a suspicious look or touch. Manfred and his family were killed in Auschwitz. Gad escaped to Switzerland where he helped others escape. Heggie and Scheer have created a brief musical tale in which Manfred returns many years after his death to seek out Gad. They confront each other and in the end, embrace. It is most touching and memorable. The role of Manfred is sung well and warmly by Morgan Smith and Gad is portrayed by a non-singing actor, all accompanied by a fine chamber ensemble.

Out of Darkness was commissioned by Music of Remembrance, a chamber music organization based in Seattle that was founded in 1998 for the remembrance of Holocaust musicians and their art. Recorded in Seattle in 2013, Naxos has produced a recording with full and impressive sound.