PIAF: The Dark Mirror

PIAF Ian Bostridge in The Dark Mirror - photo by Hugo GlendinningThe Dark Mirror sees the joining of the world’s leading performer of Schubert’s Winterreise, tenor Ian Bostridge, director, designer and video artist Netia Jones, and conductor Baldur Brönnimann in a rich re-invigoration of a classic and beloved song-cycle.

Within the performance, Hans Zender’s strikingly theatrical re-arrangement of the piece is enhanced by Jones’ intelligent media direction and set design, and the tenor’s captivating narrative voice. Bostridge was accompanied by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, who perform this arrangement with a meticulous vigour that is both thrilling to listen to and beautifully contains the melancholia of Wilhelm Müller’s poetry.

Bostridge is a master of Die Winterreise, and after a thirty-year career that has seen him performing the piece across the globe, listening to him truly immersive. Bostridge manages to capture in an almost uncanny manner the introspectiveness and darkness within the music. Netia Jones’ set design and video-work is exceptional, and there are moments when The Dark Mirror seems eerily self-aware of the way art can distort time and place.

Listening to the 52-year old Bostridge lamenting over the tragedies of a younger love while an image of his younger self gazes forlornly from the backdrop, features broken into pieces by the ‘broken mirror’ that makes up the body of the set, is both an eerie and poignant experience.

A fascinating quality of The Dark Mirror is its dedication to guiding the audience through the music’s narrative, creating a certain innovative accessibility which felt welcoming. The decision to subtitle the poems on the set’s backdrop in time with Bostridge’s voice is a carefully curated one – and undoubtedly demonstrates a strong attempt at experimenting with the music’s reception.

However, there were times when this dedication to exploring the literal narrative behind the words distracted slightly from the story-telling qualities of Bostridge’s vocals, which are superb in themselves. The difference in pacing and rhythm between the German vocals and English subtitles sometimes felt like I was splitting my attention between two different versions of the poems, with the latter not quite able to articulate the depth of the former.

There is a bleakness to The Dark Mirror that is both difficult to articulate and entirely suitable. There were many moments when I truly felt I was holding my breath, suspended in the same thoughtful and hostile winter landscape as Bostridge. Jones has managed to perfectly capture the uncomfortable feeling of looking back on memories distorted by extreme emotion, on touching that dark landscape that both makes us who we are and yet strangely feels like a different self altogether.

The Dark Mirror is about wandering, and nostalgia, and coming to terms with a history that is not behind us but instead looms around us, bending the world into shape.

The Dark Mirror
Perth Concert Hall, St Georges Terrace, Perth
Performance: Saturday 11 February 2017 – 7.30pm
Season: 10 – 11 February 2017
Information: www.perthfestival.com.au

Image: Ian Bostridge in The Dark Mirror – photo by Hugo Glendinning

Review: Heather Blakey