The narrator of Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” gives a vivid description of his despairing late-night walk through the winter snow. But, for all the poetic imagery, most performances of the work don’t give listeners much to look at.
A new production presented by the Atlanta Opera pairs inventive projected video with a performance of the famous song cycle. It’s not always a perfect match, but the show is ultimately compelling, and the central performer, baritone David Adam Moore, offers a fantastic vocal interpretation that’s at once introspective and accessible.
The show is part of the Atlanta Opera’s new Discoveries series, which adds noncanonical and contemporary operatic works at smaller venues around Atlanta to a season of popular classics at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. “Winter Journey,” as the show is called, is at the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University through Sept. 20.
Technically not a work of opera at all, “Winterreise” is a cycle of 24 songs most often performed in recital.
Moore, who also is a visual artist, has created a wealth of images for Schubert’s piece with the help of his partner, set and costume designer Vita Tzykun. Accompanied by piano, the singer, dressed entirely in white, performs on a white set as the video images are projected all around him.
The images often snap right into place alongside the performance in a way that feels natural and fitting. Especially welcome is abstract footage of ice melting or of snow falling, as in the production’s first song “Gute Nacht.”
At other times, the images tend to dominate and even distract. Super close-ups of human skin don’t serve to illustrate much other than how awful skin looks very close-up.
It’s also somehow distracting to see the singer represented in the film and also appearing next to his own projected image onstage, and the video is often too literal: When the narrator sings about tears, we see tears streaming down a face.
Still, when things work, they really work. In “Frühlingstraum,” the narrator dreams of springtime, and the video shows us a lush kaleidoscope of beautiful flowers, a reverie of color that fades to a grim winter scene in black and white as the narrator wakens.
The work ends with the narrator encountering the darkly mysterious — but somehow alluring — hurdy-gurdy man, and the accompanying image of a lone figure in the landscape of the Utah Salt Flats is perfectly bleak, ominous and open-ended: A close look reveals that the hurdy-gurdy man is Moore himself.
Moore shines most in meditative, melodic sections like “Der Lindenbaum” and “Irrlicht,” which he gives a deliciously lush, lingering, melancholic beauty. Moore has a straightforward dramatic approach and a lovely, pure baritone voice, and pianist Earl Buys is a player who connects well to the imagistic, romantic nature of the piece. The combination results in a beautiful transparency and accessibility for a darkly complex, challenging work.
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