Clara Wieck was raised by her father to be unlike the other girls of her time. She spent her childhood training towards one goal: not marriage, not homemaking, not child-raising, but playing the piano. She was destined for a shining musical career, for greatness. Naturally then, her rebellion was to fall in love with composer Robert Schumann, and sacrifice her own career and greatness for his.
Clara: Sex, Love & Classical Music is a glimpse into the little-known details of a life that mirrors the heart of present day feminism, back in a time where the idea of actually achieving gender equality would have seemed unimaginable. Clara Schumann’s story is the story of every woman who has ever faced the difficulty of choosing between risk and safety, desire and destiny. She had many hard choices to make – taking her father to court, marrying Schumann, raising his seven children, alternating between sacrificing her piano tours and taking them up again, and eventually having to consider doing it all over again. There is no way to tell if any of these choices were right or wrong – all she could do was live through them, doing her best to be faithful to her experience. There was gossip and there was disapproval, but there was always going to be gossip and disapproval. That part, and indeed the story of the show as a whole, was deeply relatable despite centuries of distance.
Elena Mazzon’s script is straightforward, focused, and flows well over the course of an hour. Her performance is gentle, endearing and evocative. The consistent theme of Clara’s confident individuality, accented with glimpses of fiery passion and impulse, is neatly executed.
The set, the action, and the tech are surprisingly minimalistic. The music is spoken about far more than it is experienced: for most of the show, Mazzon speaks against a backdrop of silence. She plays some lovely piano pieces by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck-Schumann, and Johannes Brahms, but the music feels more like little interludes between the narration, rather than being the foundation or the soul that truly accompanies the words in this piece. While pleasant in its current form, there is certainly potential for the show to develop more layers, and for the music in particular to take a stronger place, for it to become as much of a force in this work as the spoken story of Clara.