Joyce DiDonato & Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall – Franz Schubert’s Winterreise

Winterreise, D911

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) & Yannick Nézet-Séguin (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 15 December, 2019
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For this extraordinary recital Joyce DiDonato joined with fellow Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist Yannick Nézet-Séguin to take on Winterreise, Schubert’s brilliant song cycle depicting a young man’s odyssey through an icy winter landscape, recounting his tale of solitude and alienation.

Joyce DiDonato & Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie HallPhotograph: Chris Lee

In an essay for the Carnegie Hall program, DiDonato relates how Nézet-Séguin approached her with the idea of their performing the compelling winter journey together, and how, needing a way into the protagonist’s world, she set out to create her own scenario. Inspired by her experience portraying Charlotte in Jules Massenet’s Werther, she came upon the idea of telling the story from the point of view of the woman who prompted Schubert’s wanderer to embark on his sorrowful pilgrimage.

And so, this ‘staged’ performance of the extended song-cycle began in a completely darkened auditorium. The house lights went up – gradually and then only partially – to reveal Nézet-Séguin at the keyboard and DiDonato, dressed in nineteenth-century widow’s weeds – a high-necked black gown with a lace yoke and ruffled bustle – seated at a small table. A single title projected over the stage read, “I received his journal by post.” The singer picked up a small, tattered book and started to ‘read’ from it.

What ensued was an inspired version of Schubert’s masterful work: highly dramatic, intensely beautiful, and deeply moving. DiDonato gave the music everything she had, delivering a gripping and totally convincing performance. Her peerless singing and acting were continually supported by Nézet-Séguin’s understated but appropriately atmospheric accompaniments. The frantic searching of ‘Erstarrung’, the lilting opening of ‘Frühlingstraum’ and the heartbreaking presentation of ‘Das Wirtshaus’ were matched by the serenity of ‘Die Nebensonnen’ and the delicate final portrait of ‘Der Leiermann’.

Together the performers conveyed the poignancy of Wilhelm Müller’s poetry and the subtleties of Schubert’s music, presenting the events of the profoundly touching narrative through the eyes of two different people – the melancholic protagonist and the woman to whom he addresses his desperate final words – to splendid and heartbreaking effect.

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