The theme of familial loss, with the potential for reconnection and affirmation, is universal, crossing boundaries of place and creed. As Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the holocaust opera “The Passenger,” their cultural outreach program, Lyric Unlimited, is producing the world premiere of Wlad Marhulets’ klezmer opera “The Property,” which follows the journey of a family displaced by the atrocities of WWII, as they search to reclaim their past, and pronounce their secrets.
Adapted from Rutu Modan’s graphic novel by librettist Stephanie Fleischmann and director Eric Einhorn, the story follows a grandmother who has just lost her son, and a granddaughter who has just lost her father, as they travel to Warsaw to repossess the apartment where the grandmother lived as a child. The women discover themselves at cross-purposes, floundering in a sea of memory and longing.
Mezzo soprano Jill Grove’s grandmother is a beautiful portrait of a loving woman in tremendous pain. And as the granddaughter, Anne Slovin’s soprano both sparkles and smolders. Slovin has the acting chops to match her pipes; she conjures remembrances of a young Malfitano.
William Boles’ set is sparse and heavy-hearted. Izumi Inaba’s costumes contribute to the weightiness of the story. Eric Watkins’ lighting and Hillary Leben’s projections take us to a world of wistful kaleidoscopes. Einhorn’s production doesn’t present a fourth wall; the orchestra is onstage, with conductor Michael Lewanski’s baton just feet away from the singers, who move the set pieces to create different settings. Entrances and exits are clearly visible. All of this contributes to the type of visceral theatrical experience that Chicago audiences savor.
Marhulets miraculously combines the elements of klezmer, the “secular” side of Jewish music, with the underpinnings of contemporary opera. His use of leitmotif is masterful, and his sense of vocal line, sublime. The reconciliation is in the music. (Aaron Hunt)
Lyric Unlimited at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 East 60th, (312)827-5600, lyricopera.org/property, $20-$25. Through February 27.; North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (847)673-6300, northshorecenter.org, $20-$40. Through March 5.