On his Vimeo webpage Eric Solstein says “This amazing performance by Adam Klein & Craig Ketter of the Schubert song cycle will be the soundtrack to a film I’m just finishing. It’s too powerful not to be available on its own terms.“
Solstein is a film-maker, Klein a singer, and Ketter a pianist. And so indeed he’s made the film available via Vimeo, the site for sharing video: a film of Klein & Ketter performing Schubert’s Winterreise.
It’s highly original.
I’m taken back to the famous painting of a Schubertiade –a concert of Schubert music—that gives us a bit of a sense how that might have been. The painting shows us a moderate sized room, but sufficiently intimate that everyone can connect with the music, and perhaps more importantly, with the presence of the composer, performing for everyone in the room.
Solstein’s film gives us something comparable, in other words we’re not in the artificial world of a modern concert space, where everyone’s in black, where the audience sits in a kind of thrall to the performance. Nope.
We’re listening to Schubert in a modern living room, with a grand piano.
If Schubert were alive today perhaps this is how the composer would share his music: that is, in such a space via Vimeo.
The juxtaposition of the modern & the early romantic makes this a performance of which Brecht would likely have a thing or two to say. We are deep into the illusion of a performance, but we’re reminded of the performers and the apparatus of creation. We have it both ways, sometimes swallowed by the music’s magic spell, sometimes kept at arm’s length by the remarkable camerawork.
There’s Adam Klein, in casual clothes, standing in the indentation of the piano.
There‘s Craig Ketter, even more casually attired at the keyboard.
And I would say that Solstein’s assessment is accurate. It’s very powerful. We get views mostly of Klein’s drama in the monological narrative of the songs. Each one usually starts us with the title & a view of Ketter getting us going, and occasional glimpses of Ketter in the middle of songs. Otherwise we can be very close to Klein.
In the Metropolitan Opera high definition broadcasts, we sometimes get close-ups of singers on the stage. The new high-definition images bring us in quite close. Few singers are really good enough to handle these close-ups. They’re often juggling responsibilities, between their dramatic portrayal, their singing, their air supply, and watching the conductor give the down-beat. They try to do all this without looking too obvious about it, because the illusion breaks when we see them suddenly notice the camera or breathe too outrageously. Opera is a very artificial art, so that one rarely can get lost in a close-up performance, without noticing all those competing requirements. I think the most excellent moments I saw all season were by Susan Graham as Didon, in delicious close-up, madly fuming over the departure of Aenée in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, and yet never betrayed by that camera.
Yet Adam Klein is stripped even more completely by Solstein’s close-up camerawork, including breath-taking moments when the camera is like a mirror, into which Klein glares madly in a couple of songs. This is a rare performance, that functions without a real fourth-wall, exposed to our eyes and ears.
This is challenging music, sung without any real sense of difficulty. Ketter makes his contribution look effortless, delicate, flawless at the keyboard. Klein? his only struggles are the ones situated within the characterization, composed into the texts. He wanders the expressive landscape of the songs, as his voice flows into the room.
The voice? Klein pushes some interesting buttons for me. I’ve seen him in the big Metropolitan Opera House, a bigger voiced Loge than the man he replaced, brazenly walking the wall on Lepage’s wires. This is a versatile singer-actor. He’s sung Tristan out west, Radames just this past week in NYC, and a Rodolfo elsewhere in New York state not so long ago. In other words, he has a tenor’s range with Wagnerian power.
In the Schubert we hear the baritonal sound of a heldentenor, recalling that in The Free Voice Cornelius Reid more or less calls the heldentenor a baritone with high notes. Sometimes I think I hear one of the Thomases, namely the American Hampson or the British Sir Thomas Allen. But I mostly hear the fulsome voice of a young Jon Vickers, agile, without Vickers’ tendency to gradually slide up to notes. This is a Vickers as we never heard him, precise in all his attacks. And yes, I think I hear another baritone, namely Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in the songs of cold detached sorrow; the only consolation we seem to have in those moments is the warmth of the voice, the breath you see before you on a cold day as you trudge alone.
It’s a fuller sound than I’ve ever heard singing the songs as a tenor. They can be transposed, but to sing them as a tenor, and still have the fullness? That’s new. This isn’t Peter Schreier, yet Klein’s every bit as agile, every bit as delicate when he needs to be, and effortless up top.
The diction is excellent. I feel I should mention this because it seems to slide by the boards in most criticism of American singers. The Met chorus are competent, while some of the soloists are syllable-by-syllable accurate, rather than singing words & phrases. Klein sings sentences, arching phrases, sometimes contorted with pain but clearly etched upon the ear. We’re in the presence of a powerful instrument holding forth in a small space, reaching across a small room, but sometimes overwhelmed by feeling.
The face is troubled. He wears a short beard, sometimes a mask with the emotion within, sometimes his face tormented by his subject. We are on that winter journey with the singer, traveling through several songs, traversing several different vocal timbres, approaches to the music, to the text.
I am grateful that this performance has been captured, a valid and highly original response to the music. It’s not precisely opera, but it’s an entirely different response to the songs than usual. Klein’s not restrained by the formalities of black dress clothes and a distant audience. We’re right there, or more precisely, he’s right here: in our face.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.