American composer Jake Heggie continues his ‘Year in Chicago’ with the Chicago premiere of his latest opera (created with librettist Gene Scheer) based on the separate journals of two Holocaust survivors: Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck.
Her Jewish identity hidden, Krystyna Zywulska was a political prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In secret, she composed lyrics to inspire fellow prisoners, even as she carried out her harrowing job in the Effektenkammer: cataloging the personal effects of thousands of women and children before they were murdered in the gas chambers next store. Many years after the war, she is asked by a journalist to share her stories and record them on a tape player. Haunted and helped by the ghosts of her past – Zosia, Edka, Mariola and her younger self, Krysia – she struggles to find the words.
Gad Beck’s first true love was the poet Manfred Lewin, who was 19 when he and his entire family were murdered in Auschwitz. In the many years since the war, Gad has tried his best to forget what happened, but he keeps the book of Manfred’s original poems close by. As an old man, he is visited by Manfred’s ghost one night. As Manfred implores Gad to remember and celebrate their love, the painful truth of their stories and fates emerges. It is estimated that more than 100,000 men and women were imprisoned for homosexuality during the Holocaust; it is not known how many thousands were murdered. Even after the war was over, Paragraph 175, the German law prohibiting homosexuality, remained in effect until 1969.
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