There are not many things associated with western classical music more exciting than a choreographed musical masterpiece with poetry as an essential component — a delectable combination of words, dance and music.

This happened on Friday evening as music lovers listened to and saw a brilliant performance of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise at the International Performing Arts Festival organised by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa).

Introducing the masterpiece to the attendees prior to the show, director of Goethe Institut, Karachi, Stefan Winkler said, “It is maybe the most famous song-cycle by Schubert. Winterreise means winter journey, and it is the composer’s saddest, gloomiest and most beautiful song-cycle written one year before his death in 1827. It consists of 24 songs based on poems by the German poet Wilhelm Muller. Though it is performed internationally, [at the festival at Napa] we have a very special performance — it’s a staged, choreographed piece. The singer, Juliane Banse (soprano) and pianist Alexander Krichel are joined by the contemporary dancer Istvan Simon. It is a concept by the choreographer Andreas Heise who started his career as a dancer and is nowadays one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world. Banse is a well-known opera singer who sings at major opera houses. Krichel has won many prizes. And Simon has danced with major companies. The song-cycle has moments of sadness and silence.”

To make the audience understand the rendition (that is, the ones who are not familiar with such renditions) the organisers had provided a booklet with English translations of the two dozen poems. It carried titles such as good night, frozen tears, solitude, courage and the false suns. So, they could sense that the story was suffused with melancholy. Indeed, and it was told in a masterly way.

But it would be unfair not to speak super highly of the three artists who were completely absorbed and immersed in their art. They were outstanding, especially Banse whose singing prowess was enough to wow anyone who has even a modicum of understanding of music; and yet she moved with the dancer without missing a step or a note.

Of course, Heise deserves accolades, too, for designing a difficult artwork, in terms of content, in a manner that enabled members of the audience to use their imagination as if they were as much part of the winter journey as the protagonists.

Originally published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020

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