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Jonas Kaufmann and Friends Take On Schubert at the Armory

He first submitted his designs in early 2020, just as he was reading about how Wuhan, China — a city of roughly 8.5 million people — was shutting down because of Covid-19. He couldn’t imagine that; it would be like New York City doing the same. Once that happened too, he began to see pop-up hospitals similar to the one he had conceived for “Doppelganger.”

Now it has taken on an eerie resonance. Set vaguely in the first half of the 20th century, the production, with its rows and rows of beds, seems like a darkly familiar sight, especially to New Yorkers. And, Levine said, the isolation of a temporary hospital — whether during a war, as in “Doppelganger,” or somewhere like the Javits Center in the early days of the pandemic — is supported, even amplified, by Schubert’s music.

“There’s something lonely about these songs,” Levine said, “and there’s something quite lonely about this space.”

Kaufmann will be lightly amplified, but the concept of “Doppelganger” still relies on a performer with his immense presence, Audi said. “You need a personality like this,” he added, “because he’s alone onstage, and this is all taking place inside his head.”

He won’t be entirely alone. Among the beds will be dancers, who play the parts of fellow soldiers, as well as actors playing hospital workers. And Schubert’s score will be joined by Mathis Nitschke’s original music — which joins the songs together, picking up the harmonic thread of one and transitioning to that of the next. (Deutsch also has a showcase in the form of an interlude pulled from a late Schubert piano sonata.)

All this is possible, Kaufmann said, because “Schwanengesang” isn’t really a cycle. “We’re allowed to do something different with it,” he added, in a collaborative process among friends. “That’s our privilege, that we can present our ideas in a new package.”

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