The Dark Mirror: Zender's Winterreise

German composer Hans Zender's reinterpretation of Franz Schubert's Winterreise will be staged at Shanghai Grand Theater this weekend.

Published in 1828, the year of his death, Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” is probably the greatest song cycle ever written, depicting a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller.

The haunting song cycle was originally written for tenor voice and piano.

German composer Hans Zender’s reinterpretation of “Winterreise” will be staged at the Shanghai Grand Theater this weekend.

Almost two centuries after Schubert’s creation, Zender presents what he says is a “composed interpretation” rather than a simple transcription of Schubert’s original for small orchestra. Zender’s startling orchestration evokes the abrasive cabaret style of post-Weimar Germany.

This time, British tenor Ian Bostridge sings Zender’s “Winterreise” with the Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tim Murray.

Singing “Winterreise” for nearly three decades, Bostridge is a world-leading performer of the song cycle.

“It is one of the most important works in the repertoire,” he says. “The reflection on identity is brought out very strongly.”

“The idea that we are different people of different ages is something that is not totally crystallized in the original piece. But it is crystallized in this version because of the use of videos.”

Clips of Bostridge’s previous performances are applied in this production. The video screen is slashed into jagged shards, like a broken mirror, weaving the past and present.

The multimedia staging is designed by Netia Jones who is also the director of the performance. She is known as the most imaginative director of opera working in Britain today. Jones uses black-and-white film, video, painting and projection to portray a stark wintry landscape.

“In the performance there are three protagonists — tenor, orchestra, and film ... the camera is a magical tool, not limited by the laws of nature, physics, or time,” Jones wrote in her Director’s Note.

“The projected image, created purely by light and shadow, is a fleeting glimpse of something that exists only in memory, and will never exist again.”

Intriguingly, Bostridge didn’t begin singing professionally until in his 20s. In 1993, he made his debut of “Winterreise” at Wigmore Hall in London.

He is a graduate of modern history from the University of Oxford, and received an Masters of Philosophy in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge.

With his strong academic background, Bostridge wrote a book about the song cycle.

“Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession” explores how the work emerged and was passed on through history and also conveys the impact of the piece in modern times.

Performance details

Date: September 8-9, 7:30pm

Tickets: 180-680 yuan

Tel: 6386-8686

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater

Address: 300 People’s Ave



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