As night follows day
Live review: Winterreise; Paris Opera Comique, Lyric Hammersmith
Friday 15 March 1996
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
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
A victory for gender equality on the high seas
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove