Theater review: 'Twin Spirits' with Sting, Trudie Styler, Joshua Bell and John Lithgow at the Mark Taper Forum
The Robert and Clara Schumann saga might have been the quintessential 19th century love story. He became one of the great composers of the era, she was one of the great pianists (and an impressive composer herself). He first met her when she was a child, having come to study piano with her strong-willed father. She grew up, they fell in love, but her father forbade them to see each other. Love triumphed when she turned 21; they married, had eight children, toured Europe, but Robert’s increasing mental instability eventually drove him to a suicide attempt and confinement to an asylum, where he died at age 46.
This tale has been told many times in print and on film, and we can now add one distinguished theatrical presentation, “Twin Spirits” –- appropriately staged the night after Valentine’s Day at the Mark Taper Forum.
Actor John Lithgow, who had just wrapped up his one-man Taper show “Stories by Heart” two days before, stayed on-site as the narrator. Sting, an old hand by now at classical ventures (having narrated “Peter and the Wolf” and acted in Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”), eloquently read some of Robert’s letters to Clara, while his wife, actress Trudie Styler, read Clara’s to Robert. On cue between the readings, a cadre of musicians performed short selections by the Schumanns, with one Chopin piece and a Mozart duet when the storyline suggested them.
It all worked beautifully -– even movingly. Director/creator John Caird simply rooted his cast to their chairs most of the time in a symmetrical layout, letting the words and music do the work. Superstar violinist Joshua Bell played with lyrical restraint and lovely tone, as did Eroica Trio cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio; baritone Scott Hendricks, soprano Camille Zamora and pianists Natasha Paremski and Jonathan Kelly made sensitive contributions.
Most of all, “Twin Spirits” has hit upon a creative way of presenting classical music to non-classical audiences -– a storyline that anyone can empathize with, giving human context to chamber music and art songs that otherwise might not communicate in the usual starchy, formal concert formats. It didn’t matter whether or not you understood the German lyrics; the context and the anguish and ardor of the music told all.
-- Richard S. Ginell
Photo: Sting, John Lithgow and Trudie Styler with violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Salil Wilson