“Winterreise”, Triennale Theatre, Milan

Maggie Rose in Lombardy
2nd December 2022


Theatre Protons’s Winterreise is being performed at the Triennale theatre’s small studio space. As audience members entered the playing area, we were immediately confronted with an array of sleeping bags and blankets carefully arranged, while hospital-like, single beds were positioned at the back and on the left and right.


Photo credit: Lorenza Daverio.


Some spectators were invited to sit or lie on the beds, making us all feel part of the action. To the rear, a large screen offered a poignant silent account of male migrants on the move, in hostels and on the road.

Sometimes the screen divided into small boxes so we could observe in close-up the strikingly different faces of these men from countries around the world including their tiniest facial movements and reactions as they attempt to cope with what is a traumatic experience.

Almost immediately, a lone middle-aged man, poorly dressed and weary, enters, making his way through the sleeping bags. Having taken a seat on one of the beds, he bursts into song, surprisingly delivering the first of Franz Schubert’s Lieders in German. For the 70-minute running time, the man (János Szemenyei) carries out the everyday actions of a displaced person, living in dire poverty: he eats a meal from a can, shaves, using a toilet seat, gets undressed and dressed again, goes to bed.

At a certain point a policeman rushes into the room to check the man’s fingerprints, bizarrely obliging him to give his fingerprints repeated times. All this is accompanied by the man intermittently singing Schubert, accompanied by a pianist (Mocsári Károly), while the film continues to chart the lives of so many men in a similar predicament to the migrant-singer.

Director Kornél Mundruczó has had the brilliant idea of juxtaposing one of the most famous musical works of the Romantic era, Schubert’s story of a lone traveler (1827), whose unrequited love for a young lady sends him wandering through beautiful country scenery with the terrible dilemma of migrants today who find themselves displaced and on the move, far from their loved ones in what is often the squalor of inhospitable cities.


Photo credit: Lorenza Daverio.