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The nearly legendary story of Robert and Clara Schumann was staged and filmed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2007. The production, titled "Twin Spirits," is now available in a 2-DVD set from Opus Arte, and it is impressive and unusual.
As Narrator, Derek Jacobi has center stage. On his right are actor Sting to read from Robert Schumann's letters, baritone Simon Keenlyside to sing Schumann's songs, Sergej Krylov (violin), and Iain Burnside (piano). On his left are actress Trudie Styler to read from Clara's letters, soprano Rebecca Evans to sing selections as a solo or as a duet with Keenlyside, Natalie Clein (cello), and Natasha Peremski (piano).
The first disc contains the performance, which is an expert balance of narration and dramatic readings with solos and accompaniments from the musicians. As is explained in the program notes, some of the selections were edited in various ways for theatrical effect. All in all, it provides a fascinating insight into two human beings who loved, created complex and beautiful music, and finally suffered when Robert had a mental breakdown.
The second disc offers another set of insights into the genius of the two when different members of the cast, actors and players, discuss the personalities and works of the two Schumanns. The educational value of this disc alone is great.
I would like to see similar formats used for other famous musicians--but only with such skilled artists as were used in "Twin Spirits." But when will art departments stop using white print over colored backgrounds in the booklets, which might please their eyes but ruin ours? -- Art Times, Frank Behrens, December 2009
Better than you'd expect. 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. -- Classical CD Review, Steve Schwartz, February 2010
Having brought John Dowland to the masses with his album Songs from the Labyrinth, Sting takes another shot at presenting classical music to a wider audience which has developed the infuriating habit of not taking any notice of it. In this live performance, Sting portrays the passionate and tragically short-lived Robert Schumann by reading from his letters, while his wife Trudie Styler enacts the role of Robert's spouse Clara Schumann (formerly Wieck).
In between, selections from the Schumanns' music are played by an ensemble comprising cellist Natalie Clein, pianists Iain Burnside and Natasha Paremski, violinist Sergej Krylov and singers Simon Keenlyside and Rebecca Evans. "I think it's a great `in' for people who don't normally listen to classical music," says Sting.
Twin Spirits was devised as a fundraiser for a variety of charities, including the Royal Opera House, so we probably have to forgive its overtones of highbrow schlock. However, our task is not made easier by Derek Jacobi's performance as narrator. Ensconced on a throne and dressed like a Victorian philanthropist, Sir Del is at his fruitiest and most orotund. Fans of Frasier may be reminded of his guest performance as Jackson Hedley, the world's most preposterous Shakespearean actor. However, although Sting has suffered his share of critical brickbats, here he keeps a straight bat and delivers his readings with a mixture of wry humour and quiet sincerity. Trudie sometimes lurches into over-emoting luvviedom, but then again, she was a member of the RSC back in the day, which is how the RSC's John Caird was recruited to direct the project. And it can't be denied that the saga of the Schumanns' doomed greatest-love-of-all is a powerful tear-jerker. "There are moments in the story that make me very fearful," Styler admits. "The idea of losing my husband confronts me when I look at Sting as Robert. There are a few moments in the script where Robert and Clara are having a good time, so I try to make the most of them, just as I do in my own life." At 90 minutes, Twin Spirits cries out for some editing scissors, but perseverance is rewarded by the quality of the musical performances. Simon Keenlyside brings thunderous conviction to his musical portrayal of Robert Schumann, and the quartet performance of Traumerei, which marks the composer's solitary and miserable death, feels lonelier than a coyote's howl.
Surprisingly, the second disc of additional features contains some of the best bits, especially Caird's conversations with the participants. All the musicians offer useful insights into the music, with Iain Burnside contributing shrewd remarks about the way Robert Schumann's music demands active intervention from the performer to bring it to life. When Caird introduces musicologist Daniel Gallagher to supply commentary on the Schumanns' life and work, he's so fascinating that that even Sting and Trudie find themselves spontaneously quizzing him.
Despite all this, if you really want to explore the Schumanns' work, you might consider buying a selection of CDs and playing them a lot. -- The Arts Desk, Adam Sweeting, October 1, 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. -- Opera News Online, Judith Malafronte, Decmber 2009
Like cucumber sandwiches at high tea, this depiction of the romance between two German musicians is a uniquely English confection. It follows in the tradition of BBC radio's dramatization of biographical presentations. In this case, the extended courtship and all-too-brief marriage is rendered with convincing fidelity through an enlightened blending of the spoken word and musical examples from the respective compositions of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. Nobly narrated by Derek Jacobi, the dialogue is ably conveyed by Sting (when will he, as an emerging musical polymath, be granted a knighthood so that his real name may enter common usage?) and Trudie Styler reading the lovers' correspondence compiled over decades. An unusual form of entertainment, but it kept a capacity audience in rapt attention over a long evening at Covent Garden. The singers and musicians give heartfelt support to the story with immaculate performances. The set includes close to two hours of extra features. It is also available from Opus Arte on conventional DVD format. Highly recommended to admirers of the Schumanns and all collectors with a special interest in German music of the Romantic period. -- La Scena Musicale, October 2009
One of the most moving love stories in the world of music is the relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann. In 2007, the British producer David Caird put together a music theater piece called Twin Spirits at London's Covent Garden in which Derek Jacoby narrated the romantic and tragic story, with Sting and his wife Trudie Styler reading passages from Robert and Clara's letters and the remarkable diary they kept together in the first years of their marriage. Some excellent chamber musicians and singers punctuate the readings with excerpts from the works of both Robert and Clara. Twin Spirits tells the story of Robert Schumann coming to Leipzig to study with the renowned music teacher Friedrich Wieck. Wieck's daughter Clara was a piano prodigy, by far the most talented of his six children. Robert was nine years older than her. He lived with the Wiecks for a year. By the time Clara was in her mid teens, they had fallen in love. Wieck was violently opposed to this romance. Clara's career came first. He refused to permit the marriage and ultimately the two lovers went to court for permission. Clara was 21; Robert 30. Wieck eventually relented when the couple had the first of their eight children, only four of whom outlived their parents. Clara was much more famous than Robert, and traveled extensively giving recitals, which were admired by the greatest musical figures of the time. She inspired Robert -- the year before they were married, he wrote more than 100 of his greatest songs. And she helped further his career by playing his compositions. Robert Schumann suffered from periodic mental breakdowns; tragedy struck when he tried to drown himself. He was institutionalized, but Clara was forbidden to see him for more than two years, until he was actually dying. She spent the rest of her life giving concerts and performing her husband's music. In his musical selection, Twin Spirits producer/director David Caird is less concerned with chronology than with finding something appropriate for each part of the story. Purists might object to the way Caird has rearranged some of the original music for this production. But in this dramatic context, I find these new arrangements both tasteful and effective. Sting, we've come to know, has a serious interest in classical music; he's also a coolly expressive actor and reader. Trudie Styler is particularly affecting reading what Clara wrote during her final visits to Robert. The most disappointing element of Twin Spirits is the rather artificial narration by Derek Jacobi, an actor I usually admire. But the whole enterprise is a compelling and poignant retelling of the story, and the well-chosen and well-performed music make this an outstanding addition to the year celebration of Robert Schumann's bicentennial. -- NPR, Lloyd Schwartz, February 17, 2010
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. -- TheStar.com, John Terauds, November 17, 2009
This is an uncharacteristically small-scale production for writer-director John Caird, who is more closely associated with such spectacles as Les misérables and Nicholas Nickleby. It's a 90-minute account, through words and music, of the personal and professional relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife, née Clara Wieck, devised in 2005 for the education division of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and since then trotted out for various fundraising events with different performer rosters. This version was recorded before a silent audience in late 2007. Despite the number of artists on stage, it seems quite intimate; the actors are low-key, and the musicians, while rising to the passions of the music as necessary (particularly in the finale of Robert's Piano Trio No. 1, which closes the program), are direct and obviously under no pressure to play to a large hall.
Although the proceedings are conveyed mainly through close-ups and two- and three-shots, the placement of the performers is interesting and deliberate. In the center, to the rear, on what looks almost like a throne, Sir Derek Jacobi offers bits of introduction and narrative context. Down front, at opposite sides of the stage, sit the actors portraying the Schumanns: pop star Sting, who has always struck me as more intelligent and subtle than he is generally given credit for, and Trudie Styler, best known in America as Mrs. Sting, but in England an accomplished actress with (like Jacobi) a Shakespearean background. Clustered near each of the two main actors is a trio of musicians, divided by gender. On Robert's side are a baritone and a male violinist and pianist; on Clara's, a soprano and a female cellist and pianist. The musicians do not remain segregated all the time; obviously, there's crossover in the trio movement, and both singers deliver Mozart's "Là ci darem la mano," which was important in the Schumanns' personal history. There's also an arrangement of "Träumerei" that manages to include all the instrumentalists. But for the most part, each historical figure is represented by his or her own group of musicians.
As you might have guessed, the music comes in bits and pieces, mostly songs and instrumental miniatures (by both Robert and Clara), but for the most part each item is complete in itself and only occasionally, mainly in the beginning, do the actors talk over the music. The spoken lines are drawn from the Schumanns' letters; Caird has heavily edited them and mingled missives from various periods to create a coherent narrative. This overall approach will obviously not satisfy purists who seek an impartial documentary account of the Schumanns, nor music lovers who prefer to hear song cycles and chamber works in their entirety. But that's not the point of this project; it's an introduction to the general, intelligent, curious music lover of the personalities behind this music, and to Clara's essential role in Robert's life and career.
If Sting and Styler, sometimes reading from scripts but often looking straight into the camera, don't fully convey the excitement of early love, they are very good at communicating the comfortable intimacy, affection, and mutual respect of an old married couple. Perhaps each is best when not speaking; they can communicate quite a lot in the cutaway shots of one watching the other deliver lines, or in listening to the musicians (who are also seen being quietly attentive during some of the spoken passages). The musical performances are quite good, even if Simon Keenlyside, like most baritones, finds Schumann's top notes taxing.
Those requiring a more straightforward documentation of the Schumann situation may prefer the 35-minute documentary in which a curator from the Schumann House museum and archive speaks, in subtitled German, about their marriage and careers, repeating some material from the stage presentation but elaborating on other issues. There's also a surprisingly engaging series of chats with Caird, the performers, and musicologist Daniel Gallagher about the Schumanns and their music. Gallagher's contributions are especially good, even for non-specialists, and while the actors don't have much of substance to contribute, they do at least chime in with the occasional smart observation and perceptive question. The Blu-ray video quality is, as usual, superb, although there's nothing more technically challenging here than maintaining clarity on a rather dark stage. The aspect ratio is 16:9, and the audio options are limited to PCM 2.0 and 5.0. Subtitles are available for the songs and the German documentary. Old hands at this subject may feel that its treatment here is too superficial, but take this for what it is: an educational entertainment designed to introduce the Schumanns' music and cobiography to the uninitiated without insulting their intelligence. "Twin Spirits" surely succeeds on those grounds, most touchingly. -- Fanfare, James Reel, Mar-Apr 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
This DVD about the relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Schumann is excellent and wonderfully produced. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Karenina
Twin Spirits is exquisite and movingly beautiful. I have shared it with graduate music faculty and they love sharing it with their voice students.Published 15 months ago by Carol Weingeist
Wonderfull in everyway. Almost make me cry. The music, performance, history all very very good. Of course the actors and sigers wonderfull. I recomend fully.Published 16 months ago by chacha
Fabulous performance by Sting! Never quite expected it. Beautiful adaptation of the love life of Schumann. Sting never ceases to amaze me.Published 17 months ago by Mary Cariola
I hesitated for months before ordering this recording. It just sounded a little funky, eg. Sting as Schumann?? Read morePublished on February 27, 2013 by Lou M. Aggetta
Not quite as good as I expected it to be but still quite enjoyable. Sting has found a genre he handles very well which was a distinct surprise after hearing some of the stuff he... Read morePublished on February 10, 2013 by John Mozisek
One, and only one problem. Since I bought this dvd Amazon thinks I like Sting.
Maybe that's not so bad since he did a terrific job reading Robert Schumann's letters to his... Read more