Franz Schubert's "Winterreise," a cycle of 24 songs to poems by Wilhelm Muller, may not fit everyone's idea of an opera. There's one singer, one piano and no story arc, unless you analyze the nuances of the verse. But Kevin Patterson, Anchorage Opera's Executive Director, explained that the company's five dramatized presentations of the songs this week was intended to expand how we define the art.
The texts follow the mental anguish of a heartbroken man as he wanders a wintery landscape after leaving his faithless lover. His tears freeze in the snow, his feet ache from his destinationless journey, his eyes linger over leafless trees, ice and graveyards. But he can't get her out of his mind.
When you hear the first song in the cycle, "Gute Nacht," in which he departs his sweetie's house leaving just a note on the gate, you might believe you are listening to the saddest piece of music ever written. But the mood only deepens, song after gorgeous, heart-rending song. There are brief shifts in tempo and mode to suggest fleeting hope or tempestuous speed. But the emotional color of the thing is a more or less constant gray.
Where's the entertainment? Well, entertainment may not be the right word. But a transformative effect does take place in the final song, in which the narrator sees a lonely, neglected organ-grinder and the music kicks the last gasp of hope out of the lovelorn man and leaves the rest of us looking at a black hole. Only someone with Schubert's talent could get away with it.
It takes a certain commitment to absorb the 90 minute melding of words (sung in German with English translations projected above the stage) and evocative tone-smithing. The reward is distinctly felt, a deep and chilling understanding. The small audience at Wilda Marston Theater on opening night, Wednesday, contained a larger-than-usual percentage of the city's most musically knowledgeable people.
The singer, baritone David Adam Moore, accompanied by pianist Richard Gordon, worked through was sounded like a case of sniffles but nonetheless has an excellent voice, clear and smooth, alternately hard or lustrous, and happily on pitch. He didn't have much acting to do, mostly walking back and forth, sitting or standing, but his face could be grippingly expressive.
Moore's main move was to remove a hat, scarf and coat after coming on stage. In white pants and long-sleeve undershirt, he became part of the screen in the back of the stage on which different images were projected.
The projections, video by something called GLMMR (Moore is included in the cinematography credits), provided sometimes upgraded commentary on the poems with scenes of snow filled roads, blizzardy cities, frozen water, denuded trees, tombstones and so forth. A particularly effective scene showed crows - or maybe ravens - feasting on the ribs of a carcass. As Moore sang "Die Post," in which he eagerly anticipates a letter from his girlfriend, which doesn't come, the movie showed cellphone messages. Apparently the messages weren't what the receiver wanted. The phone is shot with a pistol and bashed with a hammer.
Those looking for mere amusement may wish to forgo "Winterreise" and stick to cable reality shows. But for the kind of person who finds a necessary interior fulfillment in mindful, well-executed art, Moore's "Winterreise" will be worth the money. It will be repeated at Marston Theater at Loussac Library through Sunday, March 16. Tickets are available at centertix.net.
By MIKE DUNHAM