Wednesday, April 10, 2024

"Winterreise: A Winter's Journey" at The Hive Collaborative

The Hive Collaborative continues their series on concept albums with the original concept album, Austrian composer Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle Winterreise, setting the poems of Wilhelm Müller to music. I don't think albums existed in 1828, but nevertheless, the idea of a set of songs conveying a common theme or mood did. This "Winter's Journey" is performed by baritone Justin Spenner and pianist Carson Rose Schneider in a unique collaboration with the kind of staging not usually associated with classical music. They're only doing two performances; the final one is this Saturday at 5pm, and with a runtime under 90 minutes, you'll be out in time for dinner at one of the many great St. Paul options.

photo courtesy of The Hive
I'm getting great use out of my German minor lately. Saturday I saw the excellent solo play about an East German transgender woman, I Am My Own Wife at Lakeshore Players Theatre (also closing this weekend!), and now this song cycle completely sung in German. Only a line or two from each song is translated into English titles projected on the wall, and even with my limited knowledge of German I didn't understand most of what was literally being sung. But the emotions are clear (and translations available via a QR code for the curious). And the emotions are heartbreak and desperation. Justin Spenner (previously seen with Theater Latte Da, Skylark Opera Theatre, and others) performs like a man unhinged at the loss of love. He wanders aimlessly about the space, turning lights on and off, opening and closing curtains to reveal projections, moving the projector around (like Mark at the end of RENT) to play on various surfaces, including himself. He sings gorgeously (unmiked, natch) and with great depths of emotion.

photo courtesy of The Hive
On piano, Carson Rose Schneider is like a duet partner. In an impromptu post-show discussion, they talked about how in their collaboration they experiment with timing and play off of one other. This is their 5th time performing this piece together (and Justin's 10th), and they've performed other work as well, that partnership shows in the seamless blending of voice and piano.

The Hive's intimate performance space is made even more so with rugs and pillows strewn about, inviting audience to get closer. If you're physically able, I do recommend sitting on the floor. It's a unique way to experience music, and gives a great view of the projections all around (sometimes on the ceiling). I have never sat on the floor and listened to a performer sing while sitting on the floor a few feet away, and it's a pretty cool experience. It almost feels like being inside of the music. The projections are of the performers and other performers, sometimes more clear than others, creating another dimension rather than telling a clear story. The bulb lights hanging from the ceiling, as well as a long string of them which Justin wraps himself in at one point, add to the mood.

I had never heard nor read this piece before (it didn't come up in my German study), but I found it to be beautiful and moving, well performed by these two in a way that perhaps the creators didn't imagine, but would likely be pleased with as it seems to remain true to the piece while expanding and exploring it with added elements of movement, video, and design. Click here for more info and to snag tickets to the final performance.

The "Conceptual Beginnings" series began with co-founder Eric Morris' Frank Sinatra concept album performance (to which this performance bears some resemblance, in theme and structure), continues next with Monica Livorsi's All About Jane album release (I loved her Eras of Austen show last December), and concludes with #TCTheater artist Deidre Cochran singing Ella Fitzgerald singing Irving Berlin. In less than a year, The Hive has become a fun place to gather for music, theater, and community (including their monthly musical trivia/bingo/cabaret series 16-Bar Bingo).