Tall, thin and red-haired, Ryan de Ryke is hard to miss when he's onstage. And, with an expressive voice that finds reflection on his equally expressive face, the baritone invariably grabs the attention, as he did in American Opera Theater's just-concluded production, Le cabaret de Carmen. De Ryke will be back in March to sing in Opera Vivente's staging of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea.
Meanwhile, the singer can be heard on Sunday in concert, singing Schubert's profound song cycle about love and loss, Winterreise (Winter's Journey), backed by the excellent Baltimore-based pianist Eva Mengelkoch. The 28-year-old de Ryke, born in Michigan, raised in Luxembourg and now living in Indianapolis, earned his graduate degree at the Peabody Conservatory a few years ago.
What draws you to Winterreise?
I first sang it when I was 17. At that age, you don't have any idea what you're doing, but it was a start. I've given 20 performances or so since then. I have no idea what I'm singing about now, either. [Laughter] But this is music that keeps getting deeper every time you sing it. Although the songs are gloomy, I feel an enormous sense of comfort when I'm doing them. The poems probe deeply into a very dark region of our existence, and Schubert set them to music in such an incredibly beautiful way. This is a journey inward.
Vocal recitals, especially of German lieder [art songs], are not terribly popular. Have you found it difficult to reach audiences with Winterreise?
I've seen people react to this in very strong ways, even people who have not been to lieder recitals. This is riveting stuff. And if Schubert had to suffer a horrible, syphilitic death, we can sit through 70 minutes of his music. [Another laugh.]
The accompaniment in Schubert songs is as important as the vocal line. How have you liked working with Eva Mengelkoch on this recital?
One of the great joys of recitals is getting to collaborate with different pianists, especially when they come with as many opinions and as much passion as you do. Eva does. She's revolutionized a lot of my thinking about things like tempo that I had felt sure of.
How do you see your musical life developing?
I'm hoping I can make more of a recital career. There's no reason the recital genre can't be popular again. Lieder has more in common with popular music than opera; nonnarrative songs are normal in popular music. I don't know why there is a disconnect. Of course, lieder is about subtlety, which is not so popular.
IF YOU GO
Ryan de Ryke sings Schubert's Winterreise at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Cylburn Arboretum Mansion, 4915 Greenspring Ave. Free. Reservations suggested. Call 410-367-2217.