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Theater review: 'Twin Spirits' with Sting, Trudie Styler, Joshua Bell and John Lithgow at the Mark Taper Forum

February 16, 2011 | 12:10 pm

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.  

A portion of the evening’s proceeds will be used to support the Culture Project, the Royal Opera House and Mustardseed Arts Trust. And if you missed it, there’s a DVD out on Opus Arte


Taper Sting at the Hollywood Bowl: A little bit of classical, a little bit of rock 'n' roll

Sting in Irvine: One more look at his classical spin

Sting's classical tour coming to Hollywood Bowl

Questions and answers: violinist Joshua Bell

Music review: Joshua Bell and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at the Hollywood Bowl

Theater review: 'Stories by Heart' at the Mark Taper Forum

-- 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