|Artists and audience take a group photo at the end of the premier. (Photo: TV21)
"Winterreise” (Winter Journey) is a song cycle for male voice and piano composed by Franz Schubert and based on 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller.
The Vietnamese version was translated by Chu Thu Phuong in collaboration with musician Ngo Tu Lap.
Phuong said the translation was her way of paying tribute to Austria, the country where she has been living, working, and collecting memories for three years.
Phuong recalled how she has come to the idea of translating Schubert's work, “On a walking tour of Vienna, I encountered a tree called ‘the Schubert linden’. I was very curious about why a tree was named after the famous composer. When I investigated, I learned that there is not just one Schubert linden, but hundreds of them in Austria. That was my first hint of the importance of the lindenbaum (tilia tree) in the culture of Austria.”
“I found out that Schubert had written a song called “Der Lindenbaum” which had become famous as an expression of nostalgia for Austria. I listened to the song and instantly fell in love with it. Later on, I learned that it's the fifth song in a cycle of 24 songs called the "Winterreise”. It was stunningly beautiful, so I decided it was something I wanted to present to my fellow Vietnamese to convey to them the beauty of Austria,” said Phuong.
One evening in mid-May, the Vietnamese version of Schubert’s “Winter Journey” was premiered in a small cellar called Oper in der Krypta beneath St. Peter's Church in Vienna.
Performances at Oper in der Krypta, Austria's smallest opera theater, with no modern sound equipment, captivate audiences with their intimacy.
The 24 songs of the cycle are 24 stages in the journey of a despairing traveller who ventures out into the snowy mountains to forget his lost love.
His journey is lonely but he finds himself connecting with the world around him and finds comfort in the natural order. Along the way he experiences a turmoil of emotions, mostly ranging from despair to greater despair.
The emotions of the grief-stricken young man are skillfully expressed by Schubert through unusual scales and chord progressions.
|Florian Pejrimosvky (Photo: in höchsten Tönen)
Florian Pejrimovsky, a bass-bariton and art director of Oper in der Krypta, says that although he has been singing the "Winterreise” for 10 years, he discovers something new every time.
“When I interpret the Lied, it feels like I’m in another world which I want to show the audience, particularly my feelings about that world. I take my audience on a journey through a world of real emotion and deep feelings. The best Lied interpretation is when you can balance being in the story and deep into those feelings with controlling the singing,” said Florian.
|Hans-Jörg Gaugelhofer at the premier (Photo: TV21)
Hans-Jörg Gaugelhofer, a tenor soloist at St. Karl's church and the Imperial Theatre in Vienna, has
been performing the "Winter Journey" for 5 years but this was the first time he has sung it in Vietnamese.
Hans-Jörg said it’s his pleasure to take part in such a nice concert with a good pianist and a good audience and an honor to be in this special project because he believes they are the ambassadors of music.
“If the Vietnamese language can be a bridge to Asian people, I’m happy to be the first person to perform it. This is the first time this masterpiece has been translated into Vietnamese, and I’m the first singer to sing it. So this is a great honor. I was very excited to see if it would work for the audience and for myself,” according to Hans-Jörg.
Normally the cycle is performed by one male voice accompanied by piano, but for this project there were two singers, one singing in German and the other in Vietnamese. The singers sang opposite each other for comparison.
The special conditions of the performance challenged the pianist, forcing her to change fingerings and her approach to sound production on the piano, said Ekaterina Nokkert, musical director of Oper in der Krypta, who was in charge of the piano accompaniment.
“For me, as the accompanist, the biggest challenge is the change between singers, since each has his very individual concepts and views. So the speed and the tempo are slightly different from singer to singer,” Ekaterina explained in details.
She added, “Also the keys are different. Mr. Pejrimovsky is a baritone and Mr. Gaugelhofer is a tenor, so I'm switching between keys. But they also have different concepts of interpretation. One of them might want to bring it all to one specific word or specific comma at a given moment, which the other doesn't do. So in the moment of performance I have to listen and follow their lead and remember.”
|Director Dorothee Stanglma (L), Chu Thu Phuong (C), and interpreter Tam Dan at the premier of "Winterreise" in Vienna (Photo: TV21)
Dorothee Stanglmayr, the opera theatre’s director, said at the end of the premier that keeping the original beauty of Schubert's music through the translation was the most difficult task, but translator Chu Thu Phuong was successful.
She recalled, “The translation of Schubert's "Winterreise” into Vietnamese was extremely difficult because, I think, each note has a meaning. I have to adapt that in Vietnamese so that special notes have the meaning of a bird singing.”
The premier of Franz Schubert's cycle "Winterreise” in Vietnamese received an enthusiastic ovation.
It was part of a series of cultural exchanges to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Austria and to introduce Vietnamese people living in Austria and other European countries to Austrian music, and particularly to chamber opera.
This was the overriding desire of the translator and the participating artists, said Ekaterina.
“We were happy to take on the challenge of this very special performance that was going to be something completely new for all of us. I hope it will be a good introduction for Vietnamese audiences to this music in a way that maybe allows for a different approach to the texts and an even deeper understanding of the music that is so beautifully connected to the words. I'm hoping that the translation will make more facets audible and understandable for an audience who doesn't speak the original language,” said Ekaterina.