This was not a traditional recital but a performance in the truest sense. In the beginning, Mr. Bostridge seemed to be walking a dangerous, thin line between genius and disaster as he completely disregarded the physical stillness we have come to expect from singers who perform a Lieder cycle. At first, I was completely aghast, watching as he paced nervously about in starts and fits, doubled over, leaned awkwardly over to the side, pressed his chin down, leaned against the piano with his elbows propped up, all but bit his fingernails – in short, doing everything I am usually extremely critical of in a concert where I want the music to move and the performer’s body to show calm and gravitas, restraining himself to use no more than a few small but precise gestures to emphasize the drama. But by the second Lied, the essence of the character began to take shape out of his eccentric impersonation of a tortured introvert, and the effect was, simply, flooring. Bostridge wasn’t merely singing, he was becoming that character, a Sturm-und Drang-tormented James Dean, the choir-boy past choir-boy age who has spent a long night drinking on the town and must now face his innermost self in the wee small hours of the morning – completely alone, forsaken, not used to ever express himself and desperately trying to come to terms with this naked, wounded self despite the terrifying isolation he feels.
I now suspect that this fine-tuned performance was indeed highly choreographed, breaking all the rules on purpose and coming out at the other end with something that is arguably closer to what Schubert intended than what other singers routinely present us with. I am amazed at Mr. Bostridge’s boldness and courage to take such high risks, at times even allowing himself to not only notsound pretty but almost flat and seemingly (but not really – again, a fine line) incoherent, chewing, nay, masticatingthe words – all of this despite his angelic voice and lithe appearance. Towards the end, the character got frighteningly close to committing suicide, and there were moments where I could glimpse the kind of anger in him that brings people to want to take down those they scorn before going down themselves. This further heightened the intensity of the experience, making it not only heart-wrenching but extremely alarming. I was shaken to the core, repeatedly overcome by waves of emotions as tears streamed down my cheeks. The silence that followed the cycle’s last note was the longest I have ever experienced at the end of a recital. One person in the audience, as usual, could not contain himself longer and broke the spell. At that, the floodgates opened. Bostridge, who had appeared to my eyes like a young man until then, walked off the stage looking his age. The transformation was so sudden that it felt like a magic trick. How did he do it,anyof it?