"Now all the earth is fasting / Beneath its frozen crust."
Schubert + Müller + Beckett, o my! Music + lyrics + text, pianist + tenor + actor, three game gents* and one German song cycle (Schubert's "Winterreise," which he set to Müller's words) woven through with Beckett's poetry and prose. A light-hearted frolic twixt fields of gay poppies? Nay! A bitter dark night filled with ambient noises—the cry of the wind, the shuffle of footsteps on snow, the creak of a lonely gate, a halting breath—made by the performers themselves as they go about their related business, the persistent twisting of oiled rags, the scratch of a pen on parchment, the whine of a bow against the mouth of a bell. Crows circling. Dogs barking. A lady's abandoned stiletto, the wild patch of grass on which she treads—or doesn't. The sounds of a nightmare, everywhere calling, the sounds of a desperate soul wandering through a frozen landscape (winterreise = winter journey), not so much searching for a love that's been lost but for a way to bury it. Which is impossible since he's carrying it inside him. Which means aliens, I think. (Somehow aliens seem less unsettling than the truth.) The soul sallies forth but finds no place to rest. Even in spring there's winter ("In May the light was endless / And blossom fell as snow"), and in winter, heaven forfend: "The wind that blows the deepest forests / Blows in our hearts, we cannot hide."
No escape, not even in death: "But all the rooms are taken, no space to lay my head / I stand among the gravestones, a corpse without a bed."
But lo! What light through yonder window breaks! Comes Beckett on the littleness, "different and the same," the hard fact that this—even this, a human soul begging for release—is but a snag at the fringe of the hem of the world:
what would I do without this world
where to be lasts but an instant
where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of
Well! Jolly ho, says I, kicked back into the night to ponder alone, wandering up 58th Street toward home, when what to my wondering eyes should appear:
"Beneath this frozen river / The current rages on."
Not so! A sign hailing HALAL FOOD TRUCK*! A beacon breaks the dark: the healing platter of chicken + rice, a pack of like travelers tucked round the grill in the cold, and me, waiting, smiling, glad, blowing frost into the air.
*Three game gents: pianist Andrew West, tenor Mark Padmore, actor Stephen Dillane.
+ For an actual review, see Anthony Tommasini. He gets paid to understand what I can only flap dumbly around. Not that being paid would alleviate this problem. Here's more on "Winterreise," and more on Beckett's attachment to the piece, and more on "One Evening," which the NYT calls, pukingly, "a mashup." Please. Let's use our words for good and not evil.