53212 Presents opens its doors this weekend for an intimate evening of opera celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann on September 13th, 1819. A soprano, a baritone and a pianist welcome work of the 19th century German composer in the warmth of a space with classy hardwood floors and walls of Cream City brick. The newly-emerging performance space rests comfortably over Company Brewing in Riverwest. The performance takes place in a cozy corner of the space that is well-insulated from the sounds of passing traffic below on Center Street. Music is punctuated by bits of autobiographical spoken word in a wispy dream of a performance which lingers lightly into the early evening after a brief time onstage. It’s an endearing introduction to the new space.
Pianist Michel Shestak sits before a humble, little piano facing the corner as Soprano Sarah Richardson and Baritone Joe Riggenbach stroll through a pleasant evening of selections from the life’s work of pianist and composer Clara Schumann. The intimacy and informality of the performance enhances the emotional warmth of a show exploring the love and passion of a woman who is unfortunately best-known as the wife of 19th century German composer Robert Schumann. Performances of selections of Clara Schumann’s work accompany readings from her diary. Riggenbach, Richardson and Shestak have out together a very well-balanced evening of delicate melodies which lightly tread along a subtly engaging range of emotion.
Clara was considered to be one of the greatest concert pianists of the Romantic era. The romance of the performance extends far beyond the music. The overwhelming feeling of Clara by the end of the performances is a deep, deep love for her husband which is matched by a sense of boundless love for music as a whole. She started playing concert piano at nine years of age and went on to have a 61-year concert career. She and her husband had eight children. They kept a joint music AND personal diary. There’s a tremendous amount of passion tied-up in Clara's life that plays out in delicate notes over the course of a brief performance. Things weren’t always light and cheerful for the the Schumanns. Robert suffered from bouts of depression for 20 years before taking his own life at the age of 46. Though the program doesn’t reflect on this, there are some haunting notes at the end of the show as Clara muses on the nature of art and the artist.
Richardson and Riggenbach are charming and gracious performers who guide a small audience through a very deeply moving evening of timeless song. Opening night last night also featured a birthday cake for the late composer and pianist. One more performance of the concert awaits tonight.
Clara at 200 returns to 53212 Presents tonight for an 8:30 pm performance. The cozy, little performance space is on 731 E. Center St up the stairs from Company Brewing. For more information (and a full translation of all the songs on the show courtesy of Sarah Richardson), visit the show's Facebook Events Page.