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Travis D. Stimeling
A-R Editions, Inc., September 2010

In the last fifteen years, scholars, musicians, and classical music fans alike have grown increasingly interested in the passionate and tragic relationship of Robert and Clara (née Wieck) Schumann. Musicologists Nancy B. Reich, Christopher A. Reynolds, and John Daverio, among others, have offered exceptional studies of their personal lives and rich epistolary and musical exchanges, while a growing catalog of excellent recordings has brought Clara’s long-neglected oeuvre to the public’s attention. In his dramatized retelling of this wellknown story, English playwright and director, John Caird depicts the arc of the Schumanns’ relationship by placing their extensive correspondence (read by Sting and his wife, actress Trudie Styler) in counterpoint with their own compositions and their favorite contemporary works, resulting in a breathtakingly intimate portrait of the profound emotions that tied the two together. In a particularly adventurous move, Caird extends Clara and Robert’s epistolary dialogue into the realm of musical performance by creating two ensembles to represent their respective musical correspondence: Robert is portrayed musically by baritone Simon Keenlyside, pianist Iain Burnside, and violinist Sergej Krylov, while Clara’s thoughts are given voice by soprano Rebecca Evans, pianist Natasha Paremski, and cellist Natalie Clein.

In addition to the stellar (if occasionally abridged or rearranged) performances presented in the production of Twin Spirits, which encompasses the first disc of this twodisc set, the second disc offers several extra features that might prove to be quite valuable for use in the music history classroom and the applied studio. Caird hosts a onehour cast talk with small groups of instrumentalists, singers, actors, and musicologist Daniel Gallager that provides insight into the musical and dramatic challenges involved in the performance itself, as well as overviews of some of the issues that arise from Robert’s and Clara’s biographies and music. Occasionally, some viewers might find the cast’s seemingly endless debate about the relative merits of Clara’s work as both a composer and a pianist vis-à-vis Robert’s to be at best tedious and at worst misogynistic, as when pianist Paremski suggests that Clara’s virtuosity had more to do with the size of the keys on her piano than with her talent and work ethic. A more objective chronological exploration of the Schumanns’ biographies is presented in One Heart, One Soul, a additional thirty-minute-plus interview (in German with subtitles) with Gerd Neuhaus, director of the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau, whose commentary bestows much insight into Clara’s personal and professional life, especially following Robert’s death in 1856. Finally, a color-coded timeline supplies a useful resource that further augments our understanding of Clara and Robert’s respective creative lives and their passionate, if troubled, love affair and marriage. The excessive genius mythology that surrounds discussions of Robert’s life and work in the Twin Spirits package will certainly require deconstruction within the classroom setting and offers the potential for lively and valuable discussions about gender norms in the Schumanns’ time and our own, as well as the need for what Renée Cox Lorraine has described as a “feminist aesthetics” of music (Renée Cox Lorraine, “Recovering Jouis - sance: Feminist Aesthetics and Music,” in Women & Music: A History, ed. Karin Pendle [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001]: 3–18). Twin Spirits is, therefore, a flawed yet powerful production that offers instructors a variety of potential classroom uses, and, as such, it would be a valuable addition to any university music or fine arts library.

Steve Schwartz, February 2010

This entertainment comes out of a charity event held at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. If you don't blink, you can see Alfred Brendel schmoozing before the curtain goes up. Basically, it pairs the music of Robert and Clara Schumann with their writings to and about one another (with side trips to Mozart and Chopin). The texts and notes don't line up chronologically, but emotionally. The words, from letters and diaries (particularly the so-called "marriage" diary which they kept jointly), chronicle the couple from pre-courtship to Robert's insanity and death, with a bit on Clara's long widowhood. A whiff of the "high-class" charity event lingers a little over the enterprise. Frankly, when I saw Sting's name, I muttered, "God save us from arty rockers." However, Sting surprised me. His delivery was intelligent, understated, with just enough "characterization" that you felt the presence of another personality, perhaps even Schumann's. In other words, he convinced me. It's the professional actors - Jacobi and Styler - that I occasionally caught "acting." Jacobi at times became a Masterpiece Theatre compère, while Styler here and there over-emoted. Her young Clara Wieck was a little too cute. However, Jacobi's lines functioned simply for set-ups and connections, and Styler became genuinely moving as Clara bears the family catastrophe.

However, the real glory of the evening lies - don't be too surprised - in the music and the performances. Evans does well with her songs, although she occasionally slips into opera mode. Burnside supplies sensitive accompaniments - a pro who knows his Schumann. The cellist Natalie Clein…well, I couldn't concentrate too well on her music-making, she's so gorgeous - a bit like the young Argerich. What I did get showed a fiery but musical personality. She's wonderful in chamber music. American pianist Natasha Paremski negotiated some fiendish passage-work from Clara's piano concerto with spirit and aplomb. Violinist Sergei Krylov seemed uncomfortable in a chamber setting, but he certainly set the tone of the playing. You couldn't accuse him of bland good taste or timidity. However, baritone Simon Keenlyside stood out. I've heard few better Lieder singers. Furthermore, his duet with Evans in Mozart's "Là ci darem" from Don Giovanni provided the musical highpoint of the enterprise - silkily seductive and a better aphrodisiac than oysters (though not as tasty). It strikes me as ironic that Mozart beats out Schumann in a Schumann documentary - home-field advantage notwithstanding.

The music, for the most part, serves the drama. Sometimes, we get abbreviations or cutoffs so the readings may continue. At other times, piano pieces have been "orchestrated" for the instrumental ensemble and at least one solo song turned into a duet. However, Martin Ward displays great taste, even in a chamber arrangement of something like ”Träumerei" - a trap that can lead to sugar coma if you don't take care.

Some of the best bits come from the bonus disc, which contains, among other things, interviews with the musicians and the actors as well as a short documentary made at the Schumann-Haus in Zwickau, the composer's birthplace. John Caird serves as interlocutor. As he talks with the actors, it becomes clear that the group brings contemporary cultural perspectives to the marriage. Clara becomes the put-upon mother of the brood, while Robert flits about doing as he pleases - writing symphonies and music criticism, preparing to conduct, and so on. This really doesn't survive a moment's thought. Clara, one of the greatest pianists of her day, was the primary breadwinner (one of her tours paid the family's expenses for three years) and had plenty of domestic help. She couldn't have practiced otherwise, and she set herself challenging programs. Don't get me wrong. She had plenty to put up with otherwise from Schumann, who among other things couldn't bear extraneous noise while he worked. I don't remember how they worked it out. She may have had to practice off-premises or Schumann may have composed off-premises. At any rate, musicologist Daniel Gallagher sits in and occasionally and gently puts things right. I should point out that these are extremely informal conversations among intelligent people. My favorite moment comes from pianist Natasha Paremski, who uses the word "vibe" and then asks, "That's not too American a word, is it?" Iain Burnside replies in his Best British Manner, "It's a word, yes."

For me, however, the documentary, One Heart, One Soul, counts as the most interesting portion of the bonus features. It consists of the director of Schumann-Haus, Gerd Nauhaus, a man who knows his Schumann as well as anybody, discussing the composer. He too corrects some of the misperceptions that have arisen during the other interviews. Nauhaus speaks German, but you can choose subtitles from among several languages, including English.

One may very well ask what audience these discs serve. Sting provides one answer: those not normally interested in classical music can come to the genre by getting involved in the story. It is a cracking good story, if a little weepy - a Romance novel that happens to be true. Die-hard Sting fanatics will probably want it, even though he doesn't sing. Those who know their Schumann may or may not find something to interest them. The performances all shine, but it's not a Schumann concert, after all. You'll just have to work it out for yourselves.

Judith Malafronte
Opera News, December 2009

In his lifetime, Robert Schumann remained in the shadow of his wife Clara Wieck, whose concert career as a pianist took her all over Europe while he labored as a music journalist and largely unrecognized composer. Clara’s overbearing father had taught them both piano, but his callous objections to the growing romance between Robert and Clara resulted in a physical separation that—happily for musicologists—left hundreds of letters detailing the musical and emotional development of this fascinating couple. While in different cities, they would often arrange to play the same piece at the same time, and then write to each other about the emotions aroused; once they were finally married, they kept a joint “marriage diary” for three and half years that recorded their musical and domestic happiness.

Sting and his wife, actor Trudie Styler, are joined by Derek Jacobi, soprano Rebecca Evans, baritone Simon Keenlyside, and four instrumentalists for Twin Spirits, an educational project from London’s Royal Opera House that presents the lives and works of Clara and Robert Schumann. Sting and Styler portray the couple in words, Keenlyside and Evans in music. Jacobi narrates. Devised and directed by John Caird, the show was recorded live in an intimately arranged and lit studio space at the opera house. It weaves together musical excerpts, love letters, diary entries and narration to tell the story of their love and marriage, tragically shortened when Robert’s mental illness forced his commitment to an asylum.

The show itself, which has been given as charity performances since 2005, is both informative and affecting, with spontaneous and energetic musical contributions, especially Evans’s urgent rendition of Clara’s “Er ist gekommen” and Keenlyside’s sweeping “Ich grolle nicht,” capped by a powerful high A. Evans’s controlled voicing of “Ich hab im Traum geweinet” and Keenlyside’s “Stille Liebe” are also effective. Most of the musical selections are short, and many have violin and cello additions, which lend an appropriate salon atmosphere, though the opening of “Carnaval” sounds odd with strings. Because of its placement in the storyline (and the use of Chopin’s variations on its tune), “Là ci darem la mano” receives an odd interpretation, but Keenlyside’s and Evans’s skill and naturalness are winning.

Another huge plus is Styler’s warm, expressive delivery. With her wispy hair, vulnerable face and a faraway look in her eyes, Styler embodies the romantic, artistic spirit who rejoices in her soul mate; in passages detailing the end of Robert’s life, Styler makes Clara’s pain palpable. Sting’s spiky, contemporary look is a bit of a jolt, but his connection to the material and identification with the obsessive, suffering composer are genuine. All the artists contributed their time to the project without remuneration; only Jacobi (whose presence undoubtedly signals “class”) seems arch and distanced in his narration.

Several bonus offerings include lengthy, round-table discussions in which the singers, instrumentalists and actors speak of how powerfully the interaction of words and music affected their interpretations and delivery. A thirty-five-minute lecture at the Robert Schumann Haus in Leipzig provides biographical details and background on the Schumanns’ careers and training, as well as on their marriage and children. All proceeds from DVD sales benefit outreach projects of the Royal Opera House Education Programme.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, November 2009

Sting has been taking ever braver leaps into the classical music world over the last few years. As someone who doesn’t enjoy his singing, I heaved a sigh of relief that he is on speaking duty in this fascinating musical dramatization of the often difficult, artistically inspirational, romantically fulfilling relationship between composer Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. Sting is Robert to Trudie Styler’s Clara as they sit with narrator Derek Jacobi on the Covent Garden stage, surrounded by exceptional musicians, including tenor Simon Keenlyside, soprano Rebecca Evans and violinist Sergei Krylov. Excerpts from the lovebirds’ letters are interwoven with Schumann’s music (and a bit of Mozart and Chopin).

Once you get into the slow, black-backdropped pace of the story, you come to appreciate what an amazing job director John Caird has done to make the 90-minute show absorbing. A second DVD has more than an hour of extras, including background interviews and a documentary. This is inventive classical programming at its best, though music purists might prefer to hear uncut versions of many of the pieces on the program.

FanFaire, November 2009

What’s rock ’n roller Sting doing onstage at the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden? Not his natural milieu to be sure, but on this occasion, he really did belong there, having been conscripted to play the part of the great composer Robert Schumann—not as singer but as actor of the spoken word, reading Schumann’s love letters against the background of his sublime music played by a specially selected chamber music ensemble. It is an unlikely but inspired choice in this day and age for this unique dramatization of classical music’s most enduring real-life love story. That it is Sting’s name that lighted up the “marquees,” so to speak, which announced (e.g. “STING PERFORMS SCHUMANN”) both the original performance and the DVD recording of this quite original multi-genre creation of stage director/writer John Caird’s imagination suggests the likely reason behind Sting’s selection—to draw audiences outside the traditional boundaries of classical music, who could someday become Schumann devotees or at the very least develop a favorable disposition toward the genre.

And who better to perform the spoken role of Robert’s wife, the supremely talented concert pianist and composer Clara Wieck, than Sting’s real-life wife herself—the actress/film producer Trudie Styler? Caird could not have found a more convincing couple; their highly nuanced delivery made for a compelling performance…The TWIN SPIRITS that were Robert and Clara Schumann are represented in song by one of today’s most sought after baritones, SIMON KEENLYSIDE and the noted award-winning Welsh soprano REBECCA EVANS. Their splendid delivery captures the Schumanns’ intense romance, a mutual obsession which did not fade during 12 years of marriage that produced eight children—indeed, enduring periods of painful, forced separation before (because theirs was a parentally forbidden love) and during the marriage (because of Clara’s seasons of concertizing) that ended tragically with Robert’s death in an asylum following a serious psychological breakdown. They wrote love letters to each other, non-stop, even when together, their correspondence filling three thick volumes, from which the text for this performance were masterfully culled…And the separations that strengthened rather than enfeebled their relationship are given symbolic significance in the way Caird configured the stage setting: all male performers (Robert’s “quartet”—Sting, Keenlyside, violinist SERGEJ KRYLOV, and pianist IAIN BURNSIDE) on one side, and all female performers (Clara’s “quartet”—Styler, Evans, cellist NATALIE CLEIN and pianist NATASHA PAREMSKI) on the other. The complexities of this poignant love story which found profound expression in the impassioned playing by the instrumentalists of the music of both Robert and Clara, the songs, and the spoken words selectively drawn and translated from their intimate, often anguished but always love-laden letters are tied together by the superbly incisive and empathic narration of Sir DEREK JACOBI (photo at left), the classical stage and screen actor (of I, Claudius fame).

Twin Sprits was first performed in June 2005 at the Royal Opera House. Other performances have since taken place at Salisbury Cathedral (to benefit the Salisbury Cathedral Girl Choristers), the New Victory Theatre in New York (to benefit Broadway Cares – Equity Fights Aids) and, at the Prince of Wales’ invitation, Windsor Castle (to benefit the Royal Opera House Foundation, and Soil Association). Among other performers who have participated alongside Sting and Trudie are actors Sir Ian McKellen, Charles Dance, and Jonathan Pryce and violinists Vasko Vassilev and Joshua Bell.

Twin Spirits, the DVD, was recorded before a small audience in a studio space at the Royal Opera House shortly before Christmas 2007. All the artists involved donated their talent and time so that everyone buying a copy will be supporting the important work of the Royal Opera House Education Program which provides opportunities for some 90,000 people annually to engage with opera, music and dance. The Program has a significant social impact, reaching people of all ages and backgrounds- including the isolated and elderly, the socially deprived, disabled adults and children, and young offenders, helping them to become enthusiastic and motivated, learn self-respect, discover the potential within themselves and develop a team spirit, and fulfilling a vital part of the Royal Opera House’s mission.

This is a fascinating, innovative production for which John Caird deserves the highest commendation. The 2-disc DVD set (including a bonus disc of cast interviews and informational material) is a MUST SEE / MUST HAVE for lovers of Schumann’s music; and for those who have little or no acquaintance with the Schumanns--or classical music for that matter--this musical dramatization of the Schumanns’ moving personal journey is a most engaging introduction.

Stephen Smoliar, September 2009

Caird: Twin Spirits [Theatrical performance] (Royal Opera House, 2007) (NTSC) OA0994D

Caird: Twin Spirits [Theatrical performance] (Royal Opera House, 2007) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7043D

Twin Spirits is a new video that will be released by Opus Arte on DVD (OA 0994 D) and Blu-Ray (OA BD7043 D) in the United States on September 29.  It was conceived by John Caird as a dramatization of the relationship between Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck, who would eventually become his wife.  The narrative is based on letters exchanged by Robert and Clara prior to their marriage and a “marriage diary” that they maintained from the first day of their wedded life.  These texts were performed, respectively, by Sting and his wife, the actress Trudie Styler.  Discontinuities in these source texts were supplemented through a narration provided by Sir Derek Jacobi.  Caird further drew upon musical selections to highlight the flow of this narrative, primarily by Robert, in a few selected cases by Clara, and in two isolated cases by Frédéric Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Caird conceived that these performances would be by two ensembles, one for Robert and one for Clara.  The “Robert ensemble” consisted of pianist Iain Burnside, violinist Sergei Krylov, and baritone Simon Keenlyside;  the “Clara Ensemble” consisted of pianist Natasha Paremski, cellist Natalie Clein, and soprano Rebecca Evans.  The video was recorded at a live performance before a small audience in a studio space at the Royal Opera House in London.

At the very least this is a creative endeavor worthy of some of Robert’s more ambitious flights of fancy.  If both Sting and Styler were far too attractive to provide any fidelity to any of the portraits available to us (such as the above example), they nevertheless portrayed more compelling characterizations than were offered up by Paul Henreid and Katharine Hepburn in the 1947 file Song of Love.  The story has a complexity that the Hollywood of the Forties was loath to digest.  The narrative begins with their first encounter in 1828 and Robert’s residence in the home of Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, with whom he studied piano.  It dwells on Wieck’s resistance to any involvement between Robert and Clara, which led of a surreptitious courtship and delayed their marriage until 1840.  There followed the years of wedded bliss, during which Clara bore Robert eight children, seven of whom survived childbirth, coming to a tragic conclusion with Robert’s attempted suicide in 1854 and his subsequent commitment to an asylum.  The two were then separated (on the advice of the doctors treating Robert) until shortly before his death in 1856.  The selection of texts made this complexity far more digestible than Hollywood seems to have assumed;  and Sting, Styler, and Jacobi delivered those texts at a pace that held the attention, always leaving one ready for what would happen next, even if one already knew the basics of the plot.

No effort was made for the music to follow the chronology of this narrative.  Music was selected for the mood it invoked rather than the time of its composition.  There was also an interesting conceit of performances that would pass seamlessly between the “Robert piano” and the “Clara piano.”  If this was, indeed, a “live” performance without editing, then the chemistry between Burnside and Paremski was most impressive, reflecting, at the very least, their ability to realize a shared conception of how the music should sound.  On the other hand the only vocal interaction came when Evans and Keenlyside performed “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to highlight Robert having presented the score of this opera to Clara as a birthday present.  The most interesting ensemble work, however, came as a finale to the narrative with a performance of the final movement of Robert’s 1847 D minor trio (Opus 63) to apotheosize the union of the two souls in heaven (forty years after Robert’s death).

This offering will probably not go down well with purists.  The performances of the songs (by both Robert and Clara) and the trio are excellent; but, as may be gathered from that “dual performance” by Burnside and Paremski, much of the music has been rearranged for the sake of dramatic interplay between the “Robert ensemble” and the “Clara ensemble.”  Nevertheless, as everyone seems so fond of saying these days, “it is what it is.”  Taken at face value, this is an attempt by Caird to cast the interleaved lives of Robert and Clara in a dramatic setting that is well executed and makes for quite satisfying viewing.

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