Thursday, February 22, 2018

Video competes with music in Portland Opera’s “Winterreise”

With a stage papered snow-white and a singer clad in all-white garb, Portland Opera’s presentation of Schubert’s “Winterreise” had an edginess that could be felt throughout the Gregory K. and Mary Chomenko Hinckley Studio Theatre. But the production on opening night (February 9) would have made more of a lasting impression if it were not for a surfeit of video projections that competed with the superb singing of David Adam Moore. Yet Moore, a New York-based baritone who is also a multimedia artist, designed the video projections, which often overwhelmed the music.

Schubert’s song cycle does have operatic elements that are heightened by the evocative text from the poems of Wilhelm Müller. So the monochromatic projections that Moore and his colleagues at GLMMR (Giving Light Motion + Memory + Relevance) developed were an attempt to go deeper, as demonstrated with the flow of ice cubes that were matched with the “Gefrorne Tränen” (“Frozen Tears”) and the tombstones that were paired with “Das Wirtshaus” (“The Inn”). With the exception of the relatively static images in the final song “Der Leiermann” (“The Hurdy-Gurdy Man”), most of the images were in constant motion, including the comical one of a smart phone that was shot, hammered, and set on fire while Moore sang “Die Post” (“The Post”).

Moore’s singing was top notch from beginning to end. He used little vibrato and created wonderfully soft tones on the highest and lowest notes, which added to the forlornness of several songs. He also had plenty vocal heft to express anger and frustration, such as in “De Wetterfahne” (“The Weathervane”) and “Der Stürmische Morgen” (“The Stormy Morning”). Whether he was squatting, lying supine, or lunging forward, Moore terrifically conveyed a man who wandered outdoors into the indoors of his soul.

Pianist Nicholas Fox, who is also Portland Opera’s assistant conductor and chorus master, accompanied Moore impeccably, helping him to shape the mood and guide listeners along the introspective journey. Towards the end of the piece, the sound of the piano became more and more seductive, drawing the listeners into an almost hallucinogenic experience.

The all-white stage and costume(right down to the tennis shoes), designed by Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, provided a blankly cold canvas. Yet it would have been more effective with slower-moving video projections.

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