Eva-Marie Middleton sang these words by Friedrich Ruckert as she padded through the audience in slippers, gently greeting soft toys as she came upon them scattered around the room. It was a powerful opening to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, songs lamenting the death of children.
Dream of Childhood’s End comes in at the weightier end of the Fringe World program and takes place at the intimate Muse venue, a pop-up bar in the upstairs foyer of His Majesty’s Theatre. Mezzo soprano Middleton pairs Kindertotenlieder with Wagner’s Wesendock Lieder in a program that explores childhood and loss.
The 19th century poet Ruckert wrote 428 poems about the death of his two children. Mahler set five of them for vocal soloist and orchestra (performed here by pianist Ryan Davies, Sarah Brien horn and Niamh Dell on oboe) and they range from anguished outbursts to peaceful solace. Middleton’s dark, rich voice captures the dramatic range of the work, navigating the long winding phrases with steady breath control and enthralling emotional intensity, although some clarity of diction is lost in the expansiveness of her sound. The accompanying trio plays with both delicacy and density and the contrast in the fifth song between storminess and repose was particularly beautiful.
|Sarah Brien, Ryan Davies, Eva-Marie Middleton, Niamh Dell|
Director Sarah Mackellar generates a forward momentum by the movement of packing boxes, toys and even the instrumentalists around the stage. In a novel touch Mackellar inserts voice-over recordings between songs, containing snippets of candid interviews with adults about their memories of childhood. “I miss my mother putting her hand on my forehead” sobs one interviewee, before Middleton launches into a visceral interpretation of ‘Stehe stille” (Be Still) from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, tossing boxes in fury.
More could have been made of the intimacy of the small venue; the lieder lends itself to whisper-soft moments and Middleton rarely dropped below mezzo forte. However her dramatic intent was convincing and the theatrical overlay helped connect performers and audience deeply to music composed a century earlier. Middleton and her team are in good company; renowned tenor Ian Bostridge will perform a fully stage reinterpretation of Schubert’s Die Winterriese at PIAF next weekend. Dreams of Childhood’s End makes a perfect complement although there are only two shows remaining so be quick.
Dreams of Childhood’s End continues tonight and tomorrow 9:15pm at Muse Bar.
For other gigs at Muse, His Majesty’s Theatre dress circle bar go here.