By Nancy Plum
Often in classical music, convention has determined how works are performed, and artists have been reluctant to change a time-honored way in which a piece is presented. Handel’s Messiah must end with a loud “Amen,” Brahms’ Requiem should be sung by a large chorus, and endless discussions continue on how to perform Bach. Such is the case with Franz Schubert’s 1827 song cycle Winterreise, historically performed by a male voice.
The winds of change on this piece began blowing almost thirty years ago, and a New York Times editorial asked, “Can a Woman Do a Man’s Job in Schubert’s Winterreise?” In recent years, more female singers have been tackling this emotional and challenging cycle. Musical custom has dictated that a male singer present this work, but the song cycle’s themes of lost love and the imminent approach of death are universal and speak to everyone, regardless of gender. Asking the question “what happens to the winter’s journey, when we feel it through the heart of the one who was the impetus of such agony and despair,” world-renowned mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brought her unique interpretation of Schubert’s 24-song cycle to Princeton last Wednesday night in a performance presented by Princeton University Concerts “Icons of Song” series in Richardson Auditorium. more