The new theater piece Zauberland (Magic Land) comes trailing the descriptor, “An encounter with Schumann’s Dichterliebe.” Meaning what, exactly? Isn’t every performance of Robert Schumann’s 1840 song cycle an encounter? Yes, but not like this one. Slipped in among Schumann’s setting of 16 poems by the Romantic ironist Heinrich Heine are three ringers by Martin Crimp, a British playwright, that are set to music by the Belgian composer Bernard Foccroulle. When the expanded Dichterliebe concludes, a new 16-song cycle by Crimp and Foccroulle follows without a break. All in, the hybrid creation runs 75 minutes.
Julia Bullock, the soprano with whom Zauberland was developed, explains that Dichterliebe originally included four songs that Schumann’s editors suppressed. “So, Bernard and Martin felt comfortable inserting their own work into these places where Schumann’s songs were omitted, and I will say that the links are brilliant—one almost doesn’t gather that the cycle has changed modes for several seconds. The transitions returning to Schumann are often warm, but also reveal how modern some of Schumann’s songs are.”