THE SCHUMANN LETTERS AT MUSIC TORONTO

Friday, February 4, 2010. Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto. 

Actor Colin Fox scripted The Schumann Letters in the form of a Shakespearean comedy like The Tempest. 17 year old Robert Schumann’s plan to study law is wrecked when he attends a public piano recital by the 8 year old Clara Weick : Robert abandons his legal career and enters the Wieck home to study piano with Clara’s father.  Their long and difficult courtship culminates in a series of legal trials, which Frederich Weick initiates to prevent Schumann from taking Clara away from him.  In 1840, Clara turns 21, and Colin Fox ends his narration on a happy note for the couple and for the audience, accompanied by Michael Kim at the piano and soprano Susan Gilmour Bailey performing the music Robert wrote as a wedding gift for Clara.

 

The evening opens with Michael Kim spotlighted at the piano playing the exquisite“Traumerei” from Kinderszenen at a slower tempo than I’ve ever heard—Lang Lang’s version excepted.  About a minute into it, the spotlight moves across the stage to Colin Fox at the podium telling the story of Schumann’s failed suicide attempt, brought on by tertiary syphilitic psychosis in the 14th year of his marriage to Clara. This episode creates a dark background for the glorious story of the springtime of their love, and is not mentioned again. Rather, what the audience remembers is Soprano Susan Gilmour Bailey’s vibrant “Er, der Herrlichste von allen  (‘He, the Noblest of All’)” from Frauenliebe und Leben, the eight poem cycle Schumann set in their marriage year, 1840, telling the woman’s story of first meeting her love, through their marriage, to his death.

 

The 40 minute script, drawn from the complete correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann which runs to nearly 600 pages, proves that absence makes the heart grow fond. The Schumann Letters—a music-as-theatre  project that is shared creatively by the three presenters with their manager Andrew Kwan—will continue to tour Canada for the rest of this year and beyond. Likely it will continue creating a fondness in audiences for the wonderful music that came out the Schumann’s inspiring love story.

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