As night follows day

Live review: Winterreise; Paris Opera Comique, Lyric Hammersmith

In EM Forster's classic paradigm of plot, the king died and then the queen died of grief. But what are we to make of Schubert's song-cycle Winterreise, where boy loses girl and then dies to the world, wandering in a frozen wasteland while suffering the exquisite miseries of a broken heart?

In its romantic taste for alienation and pathetic fallacy the piece exerts a broad fascination well beyond the sphere of music. As a Forster storyline, however, it feels rather less secure, despite its semblance of cause and effect and sturdy point of view that seem essentially novelistic. Instead, each song makes a flawless statement about the boy's condition. There is no antagonist save the poet's hostility to his own image of love, a form of self-loathing. And the complete expression of that lies where it began: in the music.

Despite advance rumours of a frozen auditorium at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith as part of their act, the Paris Opera-Comique's staged version of the piece, which opened on Wednesday, stuck firmly to the text. Indeed, pianist Andrew Ball and tenor Martyn Hill sang and played centre-stage very much as if nothing were happening around them: a recital performance, in effect, and one to remember fondly.

In that sense, Christian Boltanski's installation behind them respected the hegemony of the music, though in its presence the audience perception of the singer was inevitably changed. Night and day were the essential divisions - or seemed to be, for this was a production where absurdity, echoing the singer's despair, had its place in whichever way you chose to interpret the often obscure gestures. By night, some 60 light bulbs on wires descended like stars let into the firmament of heaven. By day, railway footage of a journey between Vienna and Prague, shot in grainy monochrome, played on the pleated screen behind the soloists - and, no doubt, on our many sinister thoughts about such 20th-century journeys. Hypnotised, you kept on looking as if from a real train window, endlessly. The occasional reward was a glimpse of the beloved imposed as a shadowy image on the parade of shunting yards, birch woods and grimy towns.

As a mirror of Schubert's deepening, plotless gloom, dancer Brygida Ochaim and deadpan twin-actors Leslaw and Waclaw Janicki, late of the famous Kantor troupe, span a web of futile actions involving trap doors, a noose, and other symbols of departure. For anyone whose inner picture of the work has been honed by repeated hearings, this new realisation made for disturbing viewing, and no bad thing, if the function of art is to disturb. Quoted in the programme, Boltanski himself seemed unaware that a cycle of songs, if perfect, is neither literature nor theatre but a unity of its own: again, no harm if the result never turns the original into accompaniment. Most of Winterreise avoided this cardinal sin; though when Martyn Hill was briefly performing without stage background, in "Muth", one could only lament the loss of poetic richness that allows Schubert's own voice to speak through the music when Winterreise is heard alone.

n To Sat, 7.30pm Lyric Hammersmith, London W6. Booking: 0181-741 2311

NICHOLAS WILLIAMS

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks