Twin Spirits

 

Twin Spirits, a poly-discipline performance art concert, portrays the love between composer Robert Schumann and his pianist wife, Clara Wieck. It appears this was the brainstorm of June Chichester, a member in 2005 of the Board of Directors of the Royal Opera, who wanted a special program to raise charitable donations for the opera. Chichester recruited John Caird, a director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, to create a play with a narrator, actors to speak the roles of Robert and Clara based on their actual words in letters and other surviving documents, and musicians to perform excerpts from their music. Specialists know well the stranger-than-fiction story of Robert's and Clara's passionate and all-conquering love cut short by Robert's gruesome early death. But the purpose of Twin Spirits was to introduce this to a wider audience while recruiting celebrities to donate their services. (You can see on the back of the keepcase that part of the purchase price of a Twin Spirits HDVD goes to charity.)

The best we can tell, Twin Spirits has been performed perhaps 20 to 30 times in the UK and the US in the last 10 years, usually in small theaters to audiences that can pay, say, $500 for tickets to the show and maybe a cocktail party with the performers. A good number of top artists have contributed time. But it seems that every performance so far has featured Commander Gordon Sumner, whose stage name is "Sting," and his wife, Trudie Styler. Perhaps Sting has always been the bankroll behind Twin Spirits. And it's poignant to have a modern celebrity married-couple play the roles of Robert and Clara, whose real-life love story is one of the best-documented and most-celebrated in history.

John Caird had a world of good material to work with. He came up with a show that is high-brow enough to please the fastidious but also engaging and dramatic enough to drain every tear duct in the house. It's all true, but the facts have been massaged for effect. The music is presented in small excerpt doses and is rearranged in all kinds of ways to give the musicians opportunity to show off. Here are works from which music is derived:

  1. Robert Schumann (RS) "Préambule" from Carnaval
  2. RS "Bittendes Kind" from Kinderszenen
  3. RS "Hasche-Mann" from Kinderszenen
  4. RS "Von fremden Ländern und Menschen" from Kinderszenen
  5. Chopin "Adagio" from Variations on 'Là ci darem'
  6. RS "Stille Tränen" from Zwölf Gedichte
  7. Clara Schumann (CS) "Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen"
  8. RS Duet: "Er und Sie"
  9. CS Piano Concerto in A minor---Romanze
  10. RS "Romanze No. 2" from Drei Romanzen
  11. RS "Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins" from Carnaval
  12. Mozart Duet: "Là ci darem" from Don Giovanni
  13. RS "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" from Dichterliebe
  14. RS "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'" from Dicherliebe
  15. RS "Ich grolle nicht" from Dicherliebe
  16. CS "Sie liebten sich beide"
  17. RS "Ich habe im Traum geweinet" from Dicherliebe
  18. RS "Stille Liebe" from Zwölf Gedichte
  19. RS "Traümerei" from Kinderszenen
  20. RS "Frage" from Zwölf Gedichte
  21. RS "Trio No. 1 in D minor---Finale: Mit Feuer" 

The words and music of Clara Wieck are portrayed by Trudie Styler (actress), Rebecca Evans (soprano), Natalie Clein (cello), and Natasha Paremski (piano). The words and music of Robert Schumann are portrayed by Sting (actor), Sir Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Sergej Krylov (violin), and Iain Burnside (piano). Special arrangements of various musical selections are by Martin Ward. Recorded in 2007 and released 2009, disc has 5.0 PCM sound. Grade A+

Enough of words; time for screenshots. Since this is a celebrity charity event, there will surely be celebs also in the audience such as Sir Alfred Brendel and Commander Willard White:

Below is Trudie Styler as Clara. Her words here ("Farewell from your Clara, true to you to the death") come from a letter Clara wrote as a teen-ager desperately in love with Robert. Here she means that she would be willing to die for him. These words become an ironic leitmotif for Twin Spirits. They came true, but not as Clara imagined it. When Robert died, Clara the widow was only 37. She lived for another 40 years. But after she lost Robert, she wore only black and never remarried:

Here's another shot of Clara with two of her alter-egos, Natalie Clein on the cello and Natasha Paremski on piano:

Clara's third alto ego is the soprano Rebecca Evans, here singing "He came in storm and rain", a song Clara composed. In this review we focus on the story rather than the numerous musical excerpts, but we do have at least one screenshot of every musician:

Sting as Robert:

Two of Robert's alter egos---Simon Keenlyside, baritone, and Iain Burnside on piano:

Robert's third alter-ego is Sergej Krylov on violin:

Twin Spirits isn't a play with sets, costumes, a plot, and changes of scenes. Nor is it a biography, because so many important people in Clara's life aren't here. It's the story of a love. To keep the story moving along, the famous actor Commander Derik Jacobi serves as narrator. Here Jacobi explains that Clara was the eldest daughter of Friedrick Wieck, a famous German piano teacher. After a divorce when Clara was 4, he raised her to be one of the foremost pianists of their time (in competition with folks like Listz and Chopin). His ambition was for her to became famous, wealthy, and to marry up:

The subtitle below says,"Clara's career became the center of [Father Wieck's] professional life."

The impoverished Robert came to Wieck for piano lessens when he was 20 and Clara was 11. Father Wieck, who had other children younger than Clara, suggested that Robert board in an extra room and help around the house. The subtitle below says, "Robert became a member of the family and helped with the younger children."

Robert was an adult with his own modest social life. Clara was just a "Backfish" or kid. But as Clara grew up, Robert found himself thinking, "Will she one day become my wife?" 

Gradually they bonded, and on November 25, 1835, when Clara was 16, they enjoyed their first kiss. But the bliss of young love was soon shattered when Father realized what was happening between his disciplined, promising daughter and the dreamy, romantic boarder. He threw Robert out and ordered Clara not to see him any more. She obeyed. But they constantly stayed in touch with letters smuggled back and forth by friends and other ruses that have become the stuff of legend. Here Clara writes to Robert (still referring to him with the formal "Sie" rather than the informal "Du" that would be used by real sweethearts) saying "Compose lots of music and write me many letters!"

History holds Father Wieck in disrepute for obstinately and violently putting his own economic interests ahead of the happiness of his daughter. But Wieck knew Robert well. He may have seen signs of weakness in Robert's constitution and ability to be a worthy husband for Clara. His opposition only solidified the love of the young couple. Here Clara, fast approaching 18 (the age of consent) writes to Robert that she has given her father her ultimatum, "Today I told Father that I will never give you up." After that there was a huge court battle where Father, using unfair and abusive legal tactics, fought in public to prevent a marriage. (Father Wieck was held in contempt of court and later lost a slander suit brought by Robert!) The court ruled that Clara could marry:

Simon Keenlysides sings, "All my sorrow and pain fades."

After the wedding, Robert insisted that they start a marriage diary which reveals (along with the 8 children they had in 13 years) how passionate they were. Robert sings, "When I kiss your mouth": 

Both Robert and Clara made progress with their respective careers. But all was not well in the marriage. Clara continued to be the main breadwinner for the family by playing in public. Gradually Robert's behavior become more and more erratic. Here he admits, "I have a serious mental derangement."

As Robert's illness rapidly worsened, a new figure entered Clara's life. A young and energetic student named Johannes Brahms came to her for instruction. Per Robert, "As John the Baptist arrived, our new John has appeared in the name of the Lord!" Just as Robert had earlier become like a member of the Wieck family, Brahms became like a member of the Schumann family just in time to help Clara with Robert's final illness and death.

Perhaps Father Wieck was right all along. Although Robert had established himself as a composer, he never managed make much money. And he left Clara in near destitution with 8 children to support! How would things have been if Clara had married a Mr. Pearl Necklace who could have better supported her career? Well, true to her promise and with astonishing determination, Clara went back to work giving concerts.

And soon Clara had yet another man problem: Brahms. Johannes was a great professional friend and help to Clara. But as the narrator explains, "Over time, Brahms fell deeper and deeper in love with Clara."

But what kind of bachelor would fall in love with a woman 13 years older than he and with 8 children to support? And in a time when every illness was potentially fatal, how could the ever respectable and responsible Clara take into her bed a man who had famously consorted with prostitutes? What Brahms needed from Clara was a mother-figure, and that he already had. Brahms was a great composer, but he was also a cracked pot that Clara had to reject. Here she explains, "I have no more love to give." Robert had taken it all:

So Clara devoted herself to the children. And also for this she received little recompense. She nursed 4 of them on their deathbeds. Most of the rest were sickly, and one son went insane. Clara had to take over the care of numerous grandchildren. Only her first child Marie had any success, and that was for staying at home and taking care of Clara in Clara's old age and final illness.

And all the while Clara stayed in mourning. There was no way for director Caird to get Trudie into a black dress for the end of Twin Spirits. But let us warn you---when you show this in your home theater and Trudie starts crying, have plenty of tissues handy for your guests.

"Oh, Robert, don't you think we will meet again?"

Now that you know what the alter-egos in this show look like, you might want to see actual portraits of Robert and Clara:

This show is similar to old-fashion "performance art" in that it's an event built from unusual and expected elements arranged to make a point. Also, it seems that Twin Spirits, like a typical performance art event, is not likely to be produced by others even if license were freely given. But Twin Spirits differs from other performance art in that this production requires artists in multiple art forms who must perform under strict control at the highest level of professional skill. And the purpose of this show is not to shock or instigate, but to enlighten and edify. 

To understand how beautiful Twin Spirits  is, you must see it an a home theater in Blu-ray. The few people who were lucky enough to see this at the Royal Opera House doubtless had a grand view of things. But the HDVD camera bests that---your home theater seat is on the stage floor right in the middle of the action. Almost every frame in this video is in full-body, waist-up, or full-face close-up. Because of the dramatic lighting, great camera work, and skillful editing, every shot is arrestingly composed in rich color and detail. The women in this show look startlingly beautiful as they register all the emotions evoked by this tragic but inspiring story. The men tend to be more stoic, but you can see every twitch of each stiff upper lip. The sound is just as good as the video. You will understand every word clearly when sung or spoken.

This review gives you a good idea what the narration and spoken parts in Twin Spirits are like. But roughly half the show is music, and we have only hinted about  that. The musical selections tend to be short, but they are also more serious and sophisticated than what you hear in, say, a typical opera gala concert. Twin Spirits could have turned into a soap opera, but the music keeps it floating higher than that.

This title has a lot of bonus extra features. No harm done, but when musicians talk about what they do, their speech is for the most part about as slovenly as any one you might interview on the street. But do play the valuable documentary One Heart, One Soul. Dr. Gerd Nauhaus, head of the Schumann archives in Zwickau, tells us a lot about the Schumanns in a manicured lecture delivered in beautiful German supported by fine subtitles.

In summary then, Twin Spirits is an important fine-art HDVD because it contains what is maybe the first work of poly-discipline performance art. If this disc succeeds in its HDVD version, it may inspire others to create similar works for a new genre. But even if we are wrong about this, you will want to see Twin Spirits for its touching story fabulously well executed. You'll get a good cry, it will tell you all you really need to know about the Schumanns, and it will whet your appetite to hear more of their music.

Here's a short clip about this beautiful project: