4 Stars

Too often historical narratives of women’s lives are overwritten by those of their more famous husbands. Elena Mazzon works to redress the omission of Clara Schumann nee Wieck’s life, accomplishments and humanity in her one-woman show, CLARA: SEX, LOVE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Mazzon plays Clara, a brilliant concert pianist and composer whose father has raised her to shun domesticity and seek instead the career of an artist. As a young woman she falls in love with composer Robert Schuman. Their love is embodied in the music they compose for each other and eventually Clara defies her father’s wishes and marries.

The tension between Clara’s domestic identity and her craving to pursue her musical career drive the heartfelt and, at times witty, exploration of Clara’s inner thoughts and passions. Mazzon leads the audience through not simply the historical details of Clara’s life, but the duality of her role as mother/wife and artist, to present a woman of passion and ambition, guilt and despair.

Central to the experience of CLARA are Mazzon’s bittersweet interludes at the piano. She punctuates the pathos of Clara’s tragedies and triumphs with the music that cemented yet ultimately destroyed her marriage. The intimate candlelit staging, with the piano at the heart of the room, makes this performance feel more like a Nineteenth Century parlour concert than a theatrical production.

As Clara’s life descends into obscurity, consumed by scandal and the demands of raising seven children, the audience is left with a sense of loss. Exceptional in her own right, Clara Schumann nee Wieck is lovingly resurrected, fleshed out and given a voice after 124 years in her husband’s shadow. While the title alludes to a light-hearted experience, this production is far from flippant. Mazzon’s performance is constructed with admiration, respect and the fierce recognition across time of a contradiction that is yet to be resolved.