Broadway World, Sep. 25, 2023
By: Richard Sasanow
Schubert: Der Doppelgänger, New York, Park Avenue Armory, ab 22.9.2023
Jonas Kaufmann Returns to New York in 'Anxious and Heavy' DOPPELGANGER
Longtime piano collaborator Helmut Deutsch highlights evening of Schubert lieder staged by Claud Guth at Park Avenue Armory

Another year, another Met season without Jonas Kaufmann. Sigh. What’s a music lover to do?

Sometimes we get lucky and he shows up for a different kind of performance, most frequently at Carnegie Hall. I fondly recall a pair of concerts with the Boston Symphony, presenting two thrilling acts of Wagner’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and an evening of lieder featuring everyone from Schubert and Strauss to Chopin and Tchaikovsky, with his preferred collaborator, pianist Helmut Deutsch, and showing off Kaufmann’s marvelous voice and strong connection to the material.

And then there are nights like his current set of performances at the Park Avenue Armory’s Drill Hall, in a staged production by Claud Guth, commissioned by the Armory, of Schubert lieder, under the title DOPPELGANGER (named for one of the songs to the words of Heinrich Heine). It was as an evening of autumnal chill, at Friday’s opening, through words and music that were “anxious and heavy,” through a heart “utterly alone.”

For the most part, it neither showed off the best of Kaufmann’s vocal prowess (mildly amplified) nor of Schubert’s art as a composer, in these songs from the end of his life, infrequently performed lieder under the heading “Schwanengesang” (“Swan Song”). The exception to the evening’s doldrums was the piano work of Deutsch which was a marvel, whether he was playing luxuriously as the tenor sang lyrics by Ludwig Rellstab and (particularly) Heine, or in the second movement of his final piano sonata, or as he went inside the grand piano to pluck at the strings.

The singer, on the other hand, often sounded sweet but without enough change in intensity during the 90-minute program. The overriding tone was melancholy and stillness, as he waited for his death. There were flashes of light as the dramaturgy moved its way forward, but for the most part it was simply not a particularly interesting performance, largely I think because of the choice of material.

I guess Guth did his best to bring a sense of movement to this piece of performance art, adding connective music by German composer Mathis Nitschke. It took place in a mammoth, yet minimalist hospital ward (designed by Michael Levine, with lighting by Urs Schoenebaum and costumes by Constance Hoffman), with dozens of beds, some occupied, others having sent off men to their graves.

Sometimes patients ran wild, pursued by nurses in a similar state of mind, pushing hospital beds around or standing them on their end. Even as the soldier-patients relived the hell that they had been through (or was this all in Kaufmann’s own head?), I don’t believe it added much drama to the proceedings.

What was the moral of the piece? “War is hell”? Perhaps... Maybe it’s that audiences are so desperate to get Jonas Kaufmann back to New York that presenters will give him carte blanche on his programming. Neither explanation is new… or forgivable.

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