Jamez McCorkle returns to Spoleto Festival USA this year in A Poet's Love after performing in Omar during the 2022 festival | Photo by Vincent Master; Treatment by Miwa Matreyek

Early on the evening of May 26, the audience sat inside the black box theater of the Queen Street Playhouse awaiting tenor Jamez McCorkle’s entrance to the stage. He walked out in pure white, looked at the audience, then sat at the piano. 

As McCorkle began to play in his world premiere performance of A Poet’s Love, it was clear he had no intentions of being distracted, instead just connecting with his instrument and projections. Behind him, black and white images and panels moved with the sound of his voice and each key. McCorkle showed immense focus on the piano, all the while singing in German. 

The show is McCorkle’s and visual designer Miwa Matreyek’s original interpretation of the 1822-23 song cycle Dichterliebe, or A Poet’s Love, perhaps the best-known work by Robert Schumann, with text by Heinrich Hein as part of his “Das Buch der Lieder.”

McCorkle was accompanied by dancer Jah’mar Coakley, who interacted with the moving projections and told the  story in  a subtle, yet distorted way. As the audience watched Coakley experience loss in so many forms in a short amount of time, it was like they experienced the trauma with him. Even as the poet’s love kept being taken away, he never stopped chasing it. The plot is a roller-coaster of finding peace and love, then having it torn away left with nothing but sorrow — a lover’s promise to never stop trying to reach their true love. The show could be interpreted as a vow to a man’s true love, and this is the poet’s letter to them. 

A particularly stunning moment occurs when Coakley is surrounded by couples who are dancing the night away. They circle around him. As they fade out, he has no partner and is dancing alone. He’s yearning for his love’s presence and wants to be reconnected with her. 

The concept of nature also plays a huge role throughout the projection. At one point, Coakley pricks his finger on a thorn and then the thorns turn to snakes which later transform into hands. After the hands try to grab Coakley aggressively, there appears a pair of hands that are more calm and comforting, protecting him. Although so much bad happens, the poet never stops having hope. He allows himself to be carried through his journey by faith, believing  he will be reunited with his love again. 

“When I lay against your breast, it comes over me like longing for heaven. Yet when you say I love you, I cry so bitterly.” 

It’s a poem, an ode to his love, an inner battle that he’s facing — being in love and longing for that love, yet living with heartbreak. It’s being completely aware of the darkness that surrounds his love, “the shadows in your gloomy spirit,” but not being able to let go or be angry. He holds no grudge. He grieves and only visits his love in a dream or a memory, torn away like petals falling from a flower on an endless loop until he comes back to reality and must choose to go on. 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: Tickets are $38. Shows at 2 p.m. May 27; 4 p.m. May 29; and 7 p.m., May 30. Queen Street Playhouse, 20 Queen St.

Aiyana Hardy is an arts graduate master’s degree student at Syracuse University.

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