DICHTERLIEBE by Robert Schumann, directed by Peter Reitzel, with Stewart Granger, Duncan MacDonald and Julie Reitzel. Canadia dell'Arte Theatre (186 Munro). Runs to February 25, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm. $10-$15. 416-465-7393. Rating: NNN trust director peter reitzel to give an unexpected kick to traditional works. He dramatized Baudelaire poems with panache, and the disintegrating skin-and-bones setting for Ibsen's Ghosts was eerily effective.
Now he's staged Schumann's 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe (Poet's Love, to Heine's poetry), a landmark of romantic German vocal music, and provided a film prologue for the musical and emotional experience.
The film, shot on a hand-held camera in the Czech Republic and Germany, follows the dissolution of a relationship as a woman (Julie Reitzel) leaves her partner (Duncan MacDonald) and takes a soul-searching train trip. Behind the screen on which the film is projected, MacDonald offers silent-movie piano accompaniment.
The film segues immediately into the song cycle, a 16-melody piece sung by Stewart Granger, while the screen now becomes a picture frame capturing a "portrait" of Reitzel and MacDonald.
Over the course of the cycle, in slow-motion butoh style, the couple in the frame change their position to emphasize the theme of unrequited love.
As a theatrical experience it's wonderfully moving, with Granger's sweet tenor capturing an admirable range of emotional moods and vocal colours despite some forced high notes, and pianist Jennifer Au Tung as his sympathetic accompanist.
As music so often does, the show touches emotions even if you don't understand the words. The blurring of the line between the worlds inside and outside the frame, the suggested link between Granger and Reitzel, implies a volume of promises unfulfilled and hopes denied. *