A great love story is told in words and music

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Twin Spirits -- The nearly legendary story of Robert and Clara Schumann was staged and filmed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2007. The production, titled "Twin Spirits" is now available in a two-DVD set from Opus Arte, and it is impressive and unusual.

As Narrator, Derek Jacobi has center stage. On his right are rock star/actor Sting to read from Robert Schumann’s letters, baritone Simon Keenlyside to sing Schumann’s songs, Sergej Krylov (violin) and Iain Burnside (piano). On his left are actress Trudie Styler to read from Clara’s letters, soprano Rebecca Evans to sing selections as a solo or as a duet with Keenlyside, Natalie Clein (cello) and Natasha Peremski (piano).

The first disc contains the performance, which is an expert balance of narration and dramatic readings with solos and accompaniments from the musicians. As is explained in the program notes, some of the selections were edited in various ways for theatrical effect. All in all, it provides a fascinating insight into two human beings who loved, created complex and beautiful music, and finally suffered when Robert had a mental breakdown.

The second disc offers another set of insights into the genius of the two when different members of the cast, actors and players, discuss the personalities and works of the two Schumanns. The educational value of this disc alone is great.

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I would like to see similar formats used for other famous musicians -- but only with such skilled artists as were used in "Twin Spirits." But when will art departments stop using white print over colored backgrounds in the booklets, which might please their eyes but ruin ours?

Apollo E Daphne -- Very early in Ovid’s "Metamorphoses" comes the tale of Apollo and Daphne. After killing the Python, Apollo taunts little Cupid with how ineffective his arrows are. To show the god up, Cupid shoots Apollo with an arrow of passion and the beautiful Daphne with an arrow that kills passion. Apollo pursues her, she runs, and a kindly god turns her into a laurel tree. And that is why Apollo always wears laurel leaves in his hair.

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This proved to be an irresistible story for many composers, including Handel, whose little cantata "Apollo e Daphne" is now available on a Phoenix CD. It is taken from a 1978 broadcast from Cologne and proves to be more of a very short opera than a cantata.

Its 18 sections are divided into narrative recites, solos and duets, each of the latter two expressing some single emotion, as was the practice in the old opera seria. The plot is minimal, but the arias and duets (the longest of which is 6:21 minutes) have enough variation of rhythm and mood to keep one’s attention. It is all quite beautiful. To round out the disc, Handel’s overture to "Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno" is played.

Apollo is sung by baritone Peter Christoph Runge and Daphne by Helen Donath. Gunter Wich conducts the Cappella Coloniensis.

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Midsomer Murders 13 -- Thirteen seasons and still high quality! What accounts for sustained popularity of "Midsomer Murders"? The plots are no better or worse than those of others series, albeit considerably less gory than some. Is it the beautiful scenery? I vote for that and the clear enunciation of the dialogue that makes the subtitles, although welcome, unnecessary. But most of all, I believe it is the utterly likable Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby as played by John Nettles, and his wholesome relationship with his lovely wife and daughter.

Acorn Media now gives us a boxed set of four DVDs, each holding a 100-minute mystery.

"Dance With the Dead" starts with a young man asphyxiated in his car and the missing young woman who was in it with him. "The Animal Within" takes place after the death of a weird old man who promised every one close to him that they would get the lion’s share of his will. "Kings Crystal" concerns a glassworks business being transferred to China and a plot that strongly resembles that of "Hamlet" and even includes a production of that play. "The Axeman Cometh" has a rock group visit the locality, bringing a series of murders along with it and some insight into Barnaby’s taste in music.

Will there a 14th season? Many hope so.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.


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