For years, baritone Philippe Damerval has contemplated singing Franz Schubert's epic 75-minute, 24-song cycle "Winterreise."
What: "Winterreise," performed by baritone Philippe Damerval and pianist Sue Kazama, presented by Juneau Lyric Opera
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26
Where: Saturday's show at the University of Alaska Southeast's Egan Lecture Hall; Sunday's show at Northern Light United Church
Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students
Lecture: Artistic director John d'Armand will speak about the song cycle at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at Egan Lecture Hall
Climbing the mountain: Baritone Philippe Damerval performs a song, "Mut," from "Winterreise," during a Sunday rehearsal in pianist Sue Kazama's Mendenhall Valley living room. Korry Keeker / Juneau Empire
Based on a collection by the German lyric poet Wilhelm Muller, the cycle explores the sad saga of a man who discovers his love does not share his affection. The music drives with a manic fervor, typical of Schubert's obsession with themes of melancholy.
"It's emotionally very intense," Damerval said. "'Winterreise' is one of those pieces that gets you playing in the big playground with the big kids. You prepare for 'Winterreise' a little like you prepare for a marathon. You need to have a constant flow of energy, more so than for practically any other material. The combinations of the sounds, the words and the notes are very hard to make."
Damerval will perform "Winter-reise" at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at Egan Lecture Hall, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, at Northern Light United Church. Sue Kazama will accompany him on piano. Artistic director John d'Armand will present a lecture about the work at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at Egan Lecture Hall.
"In 40 years of voice teaching I have never had a singer who could sing the Winterreise," d'Armand said. "Even if I had, I probably wouldn't have had a pianist that could play it as Sue does. It's such an imposing piece of music, so intimidating, that I never performed it myself. I did a few songs from it, but I would take one look at this giant mountain and say, 'I'm out of breath already.'"
"It's something that I had heard in high school, and I remembered it all that time," Kazama said. "In the grand scheme of things, it's not so difficult. But the emotion of it, it takes maturity."
"Winterreise," German for "Winter's Journey," unwinds with the singer pining for his love during a long, lonely stroll on a winter evening. The man wanders depressed through a barren landscape, gazing at limbless trees and contemplating suicide.
"Grief is something we have all experienced and know about, so it's very universal," Damerval said. "I think that Schubert's treatment of it through Muller's poetry is perhaps the best musical expression of that."
"There are 68 pages of music, and it just drives, drives, drives," d'Armand said. "It's like watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour d'France, paddling like mad for six hours."