Baritone Tyler Duncan on the emotional journey of “Winterreise”

Perhaps no work encapsulates the dark shadow of Da Camera’s seasonal theme, “No Place Like Home,” more than Schubert’s Winterreise. Depicting the heart-wrenching journey of a solitary wanderer deprived of shelter or human contact, the song cycle takes on a contemporary resonance in this performance, paired with Lebanon-born Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum’s groundbreaking installations that explore the fragile meaning of home in a war-torn world. Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirm is on view at The Menil Collection through Feb. 25, 2018.

The performances, set for Oct. 23-24 at 7:30pm at The Menil Collection, mark the Houston recital debut of Metropolitan Opera baritone Tyler Duncan, so we reached out to get his thoughts on Schubert, his influences in taking on this challenging role and his favorite “beautiful and terrifying” moment in the piece.

German mezzo-soprano Elena Gerhardt remarked that “You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it.” Do you feel that way about Schubert’s Winterreise? What do you think it means to be haunted by the music?

The music is definitely haunting. To truly dive into the character of the lonely wanderer is a daunting task—his isolation and heartbreak demand an emotional depth that is easier to understand now that I am a little older and experienced in life and in singing. Performing Winterreise is not just about singing some unbelievably beautiful Schubert songs; you ask the audience to trust you and accompany you on the journey, to live the story with you. That is a huge responsibility.
Intimate comes to mind when thinking about this song cycle, which in its completion demands a lot emotionally and physically. How do you prepare?

You train technically to make sure you sing well and have the endurance to take on the behemoth, you become intimately acquainted with the text, knowing each word, and the color and emotional context it brings to the music, then you figure out what it means to you and how you can best help channel Schubert’s intention to those listening.
Do you have a favorite lied from the cycle?

One of my favorites is Die Krähe. The thought of this crow who follows you as a companion and yet hopes you will be an eventual snack is beautiful and terrifying.
Talk a bit about the poetry: What do you find fascinating about it?

I find Müller’s texts cut right to the raw emotion of his intention. I don’t find any artifice in what he writes, and Schubert is a master at setting poetry, especially his. It is a wonderful marriage of text and music.
Are there singers whose interpretation influences yours?

As a young singer I absolutely devoured the recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and was fortunate enough to work with him a little in Austria. That being said, I have not listened to a recording of Winterreise for a very long time. I try to stay away from recordings when I’m learning a piece so that I come up with my own ideas and interpretation
When you’re not singing on and off stage, how do you spend your time?

I stay in contact with my family—the glories of video chatting means I can chat with my wife and son many times a day. I read or try to keep up with the 3,200 shows that are available on all of the doohickeys.

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Schubert’s Winterreise, featuring baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Sarah Rothenberg, will be performed Oct. 23 and 24 at 7:30pm at The Menil Collection. Audience members are invited to view the Menil Collection’s exhibition Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirm in the hour before the program.