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Exciting Heggie and Scheer double bill: A preview of the upcoming showcase from Music of Remembrance

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(r) Composer Jake Heggie and Librettist Gene Scheer — Photo by Stefan Cohen
(r) Composer Jake Heggie and Librettist Gene Scheer — Photo by Stefan Cohen

Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall
May 21, 4 p.m.

Under the direction of founder Mina Miller, Music of Remembrance (MOR) has a long history of commissioning and performing excellent musical works that explore the consequences of intolerance. Now in its 25th season, MOR is about to present two of its most successful commissions, in a double bill of one-act operas by the team of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. One of those operas, For a Look or a Touch, is the only major musical work to date that explores the fate of Gay men in the Holocaust. It is not to be missed.

(l) Ryan McKinny — Photo by Jiyang Chen, (r) Curt Branom — Photo by Tanya Constantine  

This moving opera is based on the diary Manfred Lewin wrote for his lover, Gad Beck, in 1941 Berlin, when both men were 19 years old. It consists of five songs for a baritone and chamber ensemble, with a non-singing part for the actor playing Beck. The songs contrast the heady freedom of pre-Nazi Berlin with the suffering of Gay men at Auschwitz, where Lewin was murdered.

Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, who has performed at the Seattle Opera and the Metropolitan Opera to great acclaim, will play Lewin; Curt Branom will play Beck.

Caitlin Lynch — Photo by Benjamin Weatherston  

The other half of the double bill, Another Sunrise, portrays one Auschwitz survivor's struggle to describe her harrowing experiences to those who weren't there. Soprano Caitlin Lynch plays Krystyna Zywulska, who concealed her Jewish identity and was imprisoned as a member of the Polish resistance. The poems and song lyrics she wrote at Auschwitz circulated around the camp and gave the prisoners hope. (Farewell, Auschwitz, another MOR commission by Heggie and Scheer, features Zywulska's songs.) In Another Sunrise, Zywulska attempts years later to tape her answers to the questions of an unnamed professor who is collecting oral histories of Holocaust survivors.

Erich Parce will stage-direct both operas, and Joseph Mechavich will conduct a chamber ensemble of superb musicians from the Seattle Symphony. Having attended a number of MOR concerts, I can promise that the performance will be top-notch.

The Seattle concert on May 21 will be the beginning of a three-city tour, followed by San Francisco on May 24 and Chicago on May 27 and 28.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.musicofremembrance.org