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This isn't to say that the production is otherwise without merit. The idea of an informer in Prince Ivan's inner circle is both clever and managed strikingly. There are several moments of effective theater, most notably in act IV, when Shaklovity and Dosifei engage in a staring contest, while the former slowly, contemptuously puts on his hat before the priest. Mass blocking, too, is handled well, though there is the usual tradeoff between complex movements and detailed acting from the chorus.
The performances unfortunately don't redeem the rest. Ognovenko starts poorly, but ultimately turns in a competent performance in the latter part of the work. Galouzine appears to be having an off day; and while his vocal focus improves after a disappointing first showing in act I, his voice seems unusually small throughout. Putilin is in excellent form as an especially brutal Shaklovity, while Clark is a superficial but accurate Scribe. Brubaker as Golitsyn actually sounds brighter, stronger than Galouzine. Zaremba's pronounced beat interferes with a decent, if not outstanding, interpretation. Vaneev is an especial disappointment. His ordinary, baritonal, sometimes-difficult-to-hear bass has its compensations in the way he lovingly handles cantabile, but Dosifei was meant for a voice of sonority, depth, and power--qualities that were intended as the vocal equivalent of the old religious leader's moral strength. Boder tends to rush, as both Marfa's fortunetelling session and Golitsyn's exile display. He uses the Shostakovich edition with the Voronkov conclusion, but cuts both the Lutheran pastor's scene and the dramatic one featuring Susanna.
Subtitles are in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Catalan. The video format is 16:9 anamorphic, with audio available in LPCM stereo and Digital DTS surround. The only extra feature is an interview with Broder, who speaks a good game. He writes one, too, in the notes that accompany this DVD. But the only justification for the changes to an opera's setting can be found on the stage, where it either makes sense or doesn't, not in essays.
All in all, I can't recommend this. The production would look better if it were attached to another opera, perhaps one written by Stein Winge; and the performances have the lack of concentration you'd expect from an ensemble playing below full strength. Take a pass. -- Fanfare, Barry Brenesal, January 2010
Twin Spirits is a live theatrical performance that features narration, impersonation (in an epistolary manner), and chamber music centered on the lives and love of Robert and Clara Schumann. Evidently the work, created and directed by John Caird, toured in smaller venues before being presented at the Royal Opera House. It is indeed a unique experience, the letters of the Schumann's used as the basis for a story of their lives, dramatized here to excellent effect, and enhanced by their music.
One can think of no more worthy subjects than these two hyper-romantic figures, celebrated in their day and long afterwards, with personal connections tying them into the fortunes and foibles of Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Joachim, and Chopin. Their love story is one that was well known even in their own day, and their passion for one another is marked only by the equal degree of tragedy and sorrow that graced their short time together.
I will not dwell on aspects of that story here, as it is well known, and if unknown easily found in books and on the Web. Suffice it to say, the story begins with Robert's first studies with Clara Wieck's father (Robert was essentially self-taught), his aspirations as a pianist until he ruined his hands, his solicitation of love from Clara and desire to marry her (against her father's wishes), the frustration they experienced until they could get married, early bliss in their marital life and the success of each, Robert's seminal decline and mental instability, Clara's heartrending final years with Robert in an asylum, and her life after Robert's death. All of this seems like it might be too much for a stage production, but the letters have been carefully vetted in order to keep the action--such as it is--moving along. The story is given general guidelines by Derek Jacobi--superb as usual--and the parts of Robert and Clara taken by Sting and wife Trudie Styler. This might seem an odd choice at first, but Sting seems to have had a late-in-life classical-music conversion (remember his Dowland record?), and his performance as Robert is outstanding, as seasoned as from any actor I can imagine playing the part. Trudie Styler is equally affecting, and her moment of breakdown towards the end is truly distressing.
But this is not a play at all--there is no dramatic movement or stage acting. Most of the time, Sting and Trudie are seated close to one another, and they often lean towards each other when speaking. Jacobi is seated pretty much center stage, and they all can be seen watching each other. Interspersed among the talkers are a series of musicians, an all-male group (baritone, violin, piano) on Robert's side, and a female group (soprano, cello, piano) on Clara's side. At different times in the "action," the music of one of the Schumanns is played by one of these groups, or a portion of each. For the most part, the performances are excellent, the singing of Simon Keenlyside being notable, along with the last selection, the Finale from the D-Minor Piano Trio, op. 63, a real barnburner and triumphant ending to an otherwise factual human misfortune that nonetheless had moments of supreme joy. But its protagonists were certainly as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet ever were.
If there is a downside, it would be the lack of more representative music on Robert's part. The very nature and intimacy of this production nixes the idea of large ensemble performances, but one feels like part of the emotional picture is missing without them. Some of the music has been doctored or altered, nothing egregious, but odd sounding to those who know it. This was probably unavoidable in order to make the music portion fuller while using only chamber pieces. The songs are what they are, and there are a few pieces pertinent to the Schumanns at certain times that are by other composers.
The staging is wonderful, making it easy to follow what is happening; the sound is equally pleasing, LPCM stereo or DTS surround (my choice). The music however, is only secondary to the engrossing tale, and is chosen wisely to enhance the story where the words end. As bonuses, we get a substantial amount, the cast talks and the documentary being of more than casual interest. I enjoyed this thoroughly, and I can't imagine any music lover who wouldn't. -- Fanfare, Steven E. Ritter, Jan-Feb 2010