An Innovative Classical Performing Arts Society presentation. At the Pyatt Recital Hall in the VSO School of Music on Thursday, August 18. Continues until August 20
Clara/Clara, a show about the great pianist and wife of Robert Schumann at the new Vancouver Symphony School of Music, splits Clara Schumann (born Wieck) into the virtuoso musician and the later keeper of the flame who wore black on-stage to the end of her days after her husband died in an asylum.
The story, as written by Adrienne Paulson, is one of classical music’s great ones: how Clara’s father opposed the marriage and lost, the hardships that Clara saw Robert through, and the apparent bliss that gave rise to many of his greatest songs.
But other things about Clara are overlooked, such as her destruction of Robert’s late pieces for cello, done out of embarrassment when he was institutionalized but which—if the Cello Concerto and other pieces from the same time are any indication—had to be beautiful; and the persistent rumours that she had an affair with the young Johannes Brahms when he became all but a part of the Schumann household. Well, this production isn’t about those things, but some attention to them would have helped round out the picture.
It concentrates on songs from cycles like Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman’s Lofe and Live) from 1840, in which Robert sentimentally intuits feminine psychology, though the great veteran singer Lotte Lehmann didn’t like the word “sentimental” in this connection.
The show features soprano Emily Forsyth (a Sarah Jessica Parker look-alike) as Clara Wieck, who sings Clara’s own compositions, and mezzo-soprano Debi Wong as Clara Schumann, who sings Robert’s. Together this dichotomy portrays Clara, though I was never clear why or what the fragmentation was about. The whole concept of the show seemed to be about avoiding the usual stand-and-deliver aspect of the song recital, but I can’t say it worked, and dramaturgically it showed every seam. This is a well-intended production but it’s confusing.
If you were like me, you may have been tempted to give up on following what was supposed to be happening and just enjoy the music—the two women are sensitive singers. And the pianist Damien Jinks did a fine job.