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A compelling tale of tragic, invincible love
If ever a romance should have had a happy ending, it was this one. Robert Schumann met Clara Wieck in 1828 when he was a piano student with her father. He was 18 and she – only nine – was a highly gifted pianist with a talent for composing. By the time she was 15, her father, who had big artistic and financial ambitions for her, was taking her on concert tours and didn’t want her near Schumann. Yet, despite his opposition, they became unofficialy engaged when she was 18. On the day before her 21st birthday they were married. The same year, 1840, Robert produced some of his greatest love songs.
It was one of the great artistic love affairs but it came at a cost to Clara. Ultimately, she sacrified her own talents for the man she loved so devotedly. Not only did she have eight children, she also had the ordeal of providing support and encouragement for Robert, who was often suicidal. In 1854, he threw himself into the Rhine, was dragged out by some fishermen, commited himself to an asylum and died there 18 months later.
In Opera Theatre Company’s latest production, the tortured love story is narrated by the inimitable Ingrid Craigie, who also provides the voice of Clara. The presentation does a wonderful job of setting the songs in the context of their lives. The account of Robert’s death and the reading of his passionate love letter followed by Wiegenlied, the cradle song, was intensely moving. It was typical of director Annilese Miskimmon’s gentle choreography that turned a lieder recital into a compelling tale of invincible and tragic love.
The music follows the lovers emotionally, starting with the effusive love songs from Frauenliebe und Leben, restful moods in the Liederkreis and the playful duet Unterm Fenster (Under The Window). From there the mood fluctuates between moments of depression and optimism, but it always retains the sense of people living for each other.
Imelda Drumm and Julian Hubbard, singing solo and in duets, caught the full range of emotion in the songs, and David Bremner’s sympathic piano accompaniment also provided apt musical links through some of the better-known piano pieces.
The Schumann Story: Clara & Robert
The Irish Mail on Sunday
April 4, 2010.Listen now...
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Sarah Bacon began her life in opera as ASM in Opera Theatre Company. Here are her thoughts, as she once again works with the company, this time as Designer for Xerxes.
My appreciation for the nuts and bolts of opera began with Opera Theatre Company. And, as assistant stage manager (ASM) on numerous OTC shows, the induction was pretty thorough.
Opera Theatre Company: a company known to punch above its weight, bringing productions of the highest quality to cities, villages and towns the length and breadth of Ireland, and beyond.
As the 40-foot truck-full-of-set reverses up to the scene-dock door, the in-house theatre techs will sigh and say “OTC, Oh That Crowd” (if they’re polite), because That Crowd’s crew will have shown up again with another big, beautiful, heavy set to unload, construct and shoehorn impossibly into position. Much lugging, a bit of grunting, some cussing. Not glamorous. But afterwards there will be biscuits. And coffee. And music and singing, of course.
The role of the ASM in the OTC stable means being handy and/or enthusiastic, if not entirely competent, with a screw gun, a coffee machine, a sewing machine, a ratchet strap, an ironing board, a tail lift, a music stand, a starter pistol, a pin-hinge, a half-hitch, a 16 amp plug, 20 denier tights, a stubborn stain, an adjustable spanner, blood, smoke, Velcro, superglue, WD40, a whiskey chaser, a hotel breakfast, the ‘start’ button on the rented people-carrier... the list goes on, in no particular order.
I suppose touring is a University of Life, of sorts.
Knowing where to buy chips and knicker elastic from Belfast to Brno has its advantages.
A new production of any opera will often have its beginnings as a conversation between director and designer. How to pitch the piece? Where to locate it? Where lies the emotional weight? What aspects of the narrative are relevant or perhaps previously untapped? The artistic licence that may be taken with design for opera is generally far greater than that in theatre. But it is a line that must be carefully trod. ‘Concept’ can become a dirty word. The design should support the narrative and the direction, and complement the music, but not dominate the stage.
A set for a touring company like Opera Theatre Company, of course, will have other considerations, such as venue size, ease of construction and transport. These issues however should not dictate a design. It is, after all, the challenge of the Production Manager to “make it happen”!
I learnt a lot from working with designers such as Dick Bird, Neil Irish, Michael Vale, artist Dorothy Cross, or costume designer Caroline Hughes on many different Opera Theatre Company shows. Fabulous shows that judiciously struck that balance between style and substance.
It’s great to be back working with such a company, this time as a designer myself.
I will be a little sorry not to be going on the road myself, just a little… but if the crew are looking for the start button on the rental car, they know who to call.
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