Baritone Jonathan Hays, composer/pianist Jeremy Gill, and director/actor Copeland Woodruff present two staged German-language song cycles with English subtitles. Beethoven’s An die fernen Geliebten is regarded as the first song cycle (text by Alois Isidor Jeitteles). It is narrative, and literally cyclical in that the first song returns at the end, but there is no clear “story,” only a series of related musings by a single protagonist. Gill’s Helian, setting a long poem by Georg Trakl, is built around morphing images that narrate the psychological journey of a single protagonist, which Woodruff has re-imagined as an autobiographical exploration of Trakl’s brief, tormented life.
Copeland Woodruff’s staging of Helian is much more than a simple staging of a song cycle; it is a complete re-imagining of a contemporary concert piece into wholly dramatic, quasi-autobiographical exploration of Georg Trakl’s life. Trakl was a tormented soul—he suffered from prosopagnosia (an inability to recognize faces), was a drug-addict (he died of an overdose), and almost certainly had a long-term incestuous relationship with his sister (she, too, committed suicide shortly after his death).The text of Helian, and Jeremy Gill’s setting of it, is dark and tortured, and Woodruff strives to create the inner world of the poet. Baritone Jonathan Hays sings, but also embodies the character of Helian/Trakl himself, and Woodruff and Gill (also playing piano) serve as silent actors, observing Trakl’s self-interrogation along with the audience.