In a world where winter never comes, with the temperatures steady at 90 degrees, Ian Bostridge suggested a Cartagenan equivalent of Schubert's Winterreise experiment in which the most unimaginable beauties come at the expense of unbearable pain. His intensely theatrical journey on a Friday afternoon through Schubert's harsh, hellish landscape, played out literally footsteps away from the home of Cartagena's literary patron saint, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Wiping away sweat instead of icicles, his tall gaunt body like a Tim Burton wraith wracked by physical suffering, Bostridge delivered a performance that had the urgency not only of musical and human journeys, but also of purely physical survival in the intense heat. It was the highlight of Cartagena's 14th Festival de Musicá.

Ian Bostridge © Diego Vega
Ian Bostridge
© Diego Vega

In fact, it was the same improbable fusion between European classical music and Cartagena's magic and miracle that I had experienced during the 2013 Festival after a concert of Baroque music in an ancient monastery on the hill of Mount Popa overlooking the city, with a terrible wind blowing and the bell ringing as it did in the climactic scene in Black Narcissus.

In a performance that was as much a dramatic presentation as a Lieder recital, Bostridge kept in constant communication with the audience, moving around the stage like Wilhelm Müller's wounded, wandering poet. There were many moments in which risky stage business led to results that were both unexpected and yet completely natural.

He stepped to the front of the stage to emphasize the final lines of Die Wetterfahne, “Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut”. He tore off his ring in Auf dem Flusse before a last outburst of animal pain. He was angry, combative and snarling in Rückblick. He delivered Die Krähe with nasty twisted insanity, distended with agony the word “Hoffnung” in Letzte Hoffnung. He sang the ending of Das Wirtshaus leaning on the piano with his back to the audience.

Saskia Giorgini and Ian Bostridge © Diego Vega
Saskia Giorgini and Ian Bostridge
© Diego Vega

After taking a few songs to get used to the heat, Bostridge's control of his tone production stabilized; and yet there still could be strange, strangled sounds in Wasserflut, crying at “Und der weiche Schnee zerrinnt”, and snapping off of “Da ist meiner Liebsten Haus”. Despite his insinuating way of leaning into significant notes and phrases, Bostridge could summon up warmth from the deeper regions of his voice; his tenderest moments were exquisite, his voice breaking at “Wo find' ich eine Blüte” in Erstarrung. At the end it seemed as if all that had happened to Schubert's traveler had actually happened to him.

Saskia Giorgini, who won the Salzburg International Mozart Competition in 2016, was as much a friend as a musical partner. She watched Bostridge attentively and breathed with him seamlessly whatever he was doing. She found her own share of haunting Schubertian echos in the end of Der Lindenbaum where the final line “Du fändest Ruhe dort!” had the sound of an Erlkönig knell, and otherwise contributed a series of simple, heartbreakingly lovely introductions and epilogues.


*****