This staging of Schubert's Winterreise in the beautiful Teatro dei Rinnovati in Siena, for the first time in Italy, is for trio: a pianist, a singer and a projector. But it is also a work that combine together music, lyrics and images. On the empty stage, there is a silent piano and a messy artist working table, on which William Kentridge's video art would be projected.

Matthias Goerne © Marco Borggreve
Matthias Goerne
© Marco Borggreve

Schubert's song cycle is one of the highest fruits of Austrian culture and was offered here in Siena by two German-speaking artists, but is also staged in faraway Johannesburg, hometown of Kentridge. It is clear from the very beginning that the images are not the literary depiction of the story, but an interpretation. Nevertheless the match between voice, music and imagery is striking. The secret seems to be adding sense through association.

This Winterreise – writes Kentridge – is a work in progress. Listening to Schubert together with Markus Hinterhäuser, Kentridge noted similarities – in rhythm, pitch and association of ideas – between his video works and Schubert's cycle of Lieder. First Kentridge tried unsuccessfully to conceive new material for this Winterreise, just to discover that the old ones, reworked and remixed, perfectly fit Schubert. So we see many Kentridge beloved themes, such as the life of the tree, the walking man, or techniques, such as the film flip books or the use of small pieces of torn black tissue paper which swirl and fall making defined images, interwined with Schubert recurrent themes: tears, torrents, trees, solitude. Kentridge knows how to surprise: for example using a computer-generated axial tomography to depict "Rast" (Rest: Nothing could tire me /While I pressed on /Over desolate winter paths). Sometimes videos are figurative, other times completely abstract, such as the delicate "Frozen Tears".

Even if sometimes the connection between lyrics and videos was puzzling, the good match images/music ran parallel to the perfect duo: the sensitive Italo-Austrian pianist Markus Hinterhäuser, better known as a contemporary music interpreter and artistic director of Salzburg Festival from 2016, and the German baritone Matthias Goerne. He is not only a marvellous singer, but he really takes pleasure in every single note he sings, embodying the music and interacting with videos. On the other hand, Hinterhäuser is the perfect sparring partner. This evening was simply the result of two performers in a state of grace.