By Dana Zhang
“Clara; Confessions” offers a straightforward, chronological timeline of Clara Schumann’s life. A celebrated pianist and composer beloved by other great composers of the 19th century, her influence is often overshadowed by her male counterparts. A play dedicated to her is a step against the erasure of women in history, as well as an homage to brave women who were forced to balance motherhood and their careers.
Viktoriya Papayani’s portrayal expresses admiration for Clara Schumann, who, although she grew up under the stern yoke and influence of her father, expressed a headstrong will that did not bend to him, her husband, or motherhood. That is not to say that these factors necessarily hindered her life. Her feelings towards them are much more complicated.
The audience is assured that her father cultivated her musical genius, and she loved him for everything he had done for her, even though in the end, he did not truly love her. She also loved her husband, Robert Schumann; his compositions inspired her and she dedicated her performances to him. As for her children, it was a particularly poignant moment when she asked herself: did she love her children enough? Did she give them enough warmth? With her frequent touring, she admits she probably wasn’t the best of mothers, but she concludes that in her life, she spent all of herself on Robert and her music. In the end, she had nothing left to give to the children; and so it was.
Her story is bittersweet, with tragedy and conflict shadowing it throughout, but Clara triumphed in the end. She performed all over Europe, won fame as “the lady of light,” and edited and performed her husband’s works long after his death.
For a play about a musician, there wasn’t enough music in “Clara; Confessions.” Ms. Papayani plays short excerpts on a piano onstage, but these moments almost never extend any longer than two pages of sheet music. Only at the very end does she play a longer piece. We desire more time dedicated to the music of this great composer, especially when performed by an award-winning pianist such as Ms. Papayani. There are few opportunities to revel in the music, and when one finally arrives, it feels long overdue.
This production brings attention to a prominent figure in music history. There are moments of delight and laughter as we see Clara Schumann in her element, flourishing when she plays the piano. In the end, she earns our tremendous respect.
Written and Performed by Viktoriya Papayani
Nov. 10 at 4pm
Director: Schnele Wilson
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
DANA ZHANG is a multimedia journalist versed in editorial, photography, and video editing. She writes about pop culture, the performing arts industry, and the human experience. Zhang graduated from New York University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned at Newsweek Media for a year while in university. Zhang is also an avid gamer and dancer.