Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” is a versatile piece. It can be performed by a male or female singer with either a full orchestra, chamber orchestra or piano.
Santa Fe Pro Musica presents this song cycle composed in the 1880s next weekend with a small chamber orchestra and mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski, a Santa Fe resident who spent the summers of 2005 and 2006 with the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program and last summer at the opera covering Susan Graham in the title role of “La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein.”
“It’s perfect for my voice,” said Domanski about “Songs of a Wayfarer.” “Mahler suits my voice very well. I’m very excited to do this work because I’ve never done it before.”
The first movement is entitled “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht” (“When My Sweetheart is Married”) and is about the Wayfarer’s grief at losing his love to another. He comments that although he sees the beauty of the surrounding world, he can’t keep from having sad dreams.
The second movement, “Ging heut Morgen übers Feld” (“I Went This Morning Over the Field”), contains the happiest music of the work. It is a song of joy and wonder at the beauty of nature reflected in bird’s songs and dew on the grass.
The third movement is full of despair. In “Ich hab’ein glühend Messer” (“I Have a Gleaming Knife”), the Wayfarer compares his agony of lost love to having an actual metal blade piercing his heart. Everything in his environment reminds him of some aspect of his love, and he wishes he actually had a knife.
Santa Fe Pro Musica uses an arrangement put together by Arnold Schoenberg for the performance.
“What strikes me about the ‘Wayfarer Songs’ is that Schoenberg has reduced the instrumentation in such a way that I think the overall effect is more in scale with the texts,” said Pro Musica’s artist director and conductor Thomas O’Connor. “The texts are an intimate reflection on lost love that somehow seem overpowered in Mahler’s original orchestration. The personal nature of the texts is supported by the transparency of the new orchestration. The voice is never overpowered and therefore is able to maintain the intimacy of private revelations.”
Domanski also likes this intimate arrangement but says it presents interesting challenges.
“I have to keep my ears wide open, listening to what every instrument is doing,” she said. “It becomes a conversation between me and the instrumentalists. We need Tom in the role of conductor because of the time signature changes and rhythmic complexities in the piece. It’s also very expressive.”
In addition to “Songs of a Wayfarer,” the Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra plays “L’apres-midi d’un faune” by Claude Debussy, Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 by Mahler and Symphony for Strings & Woodwinds, Op. 73a by Dmitri Shostakovich.