ON SEPTEMBER 12, Atlanta Opera launched its 2015-16 season with a semi-staged production of Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, featuring baritone David Adam Moore, at Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center. It’s the first of several offerings within the opera’s new Discoveries Series, in which AO will present smaller-scale musical works at satellite venues around the Atlanta metro area.
Schubert composed Winterreise in 1827, just a year before his death. It’s a monodrama that consists of twenty-four songs portraying the bleakness of a wanderer’s winter journey through despair after his love affair has ended. Wilhelm Müller’s poetry reveals a nineteenth-century wanderer whose emotions and psyche are reflected in nature. And this production, conceived by Moore in collaboration with a New York City-based collective called GLMMR, incorporated images of nature (snow, crows, and ravens), urban scenes (city blocks, snow-covered cars, and strip clubs), and visions of Moore, as projections on a white multi-level backdrop. The monochromatic set initially has the appearance of an iceberg, but upon closer inspection seemed more like fractured ice shapes pieced back together.
Pianist Earl Buys sat at a Steinway grand on stage right as Moore stepped onto the stage, dressed in white street clothes, blending into the winter landscape. Moore has a voice with a warm, even timbre, pleasant to the ear. His ability to sing Schubert’s lieder with the utmost care and to sustain an attitude of extreme melancholy was commendable. He assumed various poses for each song, quieting his body and executing only a few well-chosen gestures. Unfortunately, lighting designer Maxwell Bowman chose to obscure Moore’s face in partial darkness for much of the evening, and his facial expressions were not visible to the audience.
Moore didn’t just sing the song cycle: he also directed and filmed the footage that accompanied his live performance. The film, which was projected onto and behind Moore, was sometimes literal. “Frühlingstraum” and “Der Leiermann” were perhaps the best examples of this. In the latter Moore himself was disguised in a cap and oversized coat as the hurdy-gurdy man (or death), cranking his instrument with frozen fingers. There’s also a stunning rustic image on film of a frozen river as the live singer lied down on top of it for the song “Auf dem Flusse.” At other times the film was abstract and perplexing. Müller’s text for “Die Post” laments the fact that the postman brings no letter from the wanderer’s former sweetheart. Moore’s film portrayed the decimation of an iPhone as it was shot, crushed with a hammer, and at last set on fire. Obviously, this was an attempt to update the connotation of the poem, but the result was intermittent giggles from the audience.
Winterreise conveys a despair and bleakness that can seem oppressive until Schubert gives some reprieve in the antepenultimate song “Mut,” with its livelier tempo and temporary bravado. But it was the ensuing song, “Die Nebensonnen” that provided resolution and much-needed relief from the melancholy of the wanderer’s mind and heart. In the exposed vocal writing Moore gave us lovely, surging sound, preparing us for the hero’s final song and surrender to death. —Stephanie Adrian