A scene from Victoria Bond’s new opera “Clara” | Photo by Jochen Klenk

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on the new opera based on the life of Clara Schumann.

Reviews are just starting to come in for a new opera about the life and artistry of composer and pianist Clara Schumann, whose bicentennial celebration is this year. The opera is called Clara. It was composed by Victoria Bond and premiered a few days ago at the Berlin Philharmonic’s Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, German.

When Victoria Bond was studying conducting at Juilliard in 1977, she participated in a master class with the eminent maestro Herbert von Karajan. She remembers asking him a very pointed question.

“I, without fear, went up to him and said, ‘How come there are no women in the Berlin Philharmonic?’ Because at the time there weren’t any. So, I had to ask him that. He sort of hemmed and hawed and said, ‘Well, it would make touring very difficult.’”

Despite that less than enlightened response from Herbert von Karajan, Victoria Bond says he was fair to her in that conducting master class.

“I did not expect that. I was the only woman in the class and in the conducting department. And I thought he was going to make mincemeat of me. But he didn’t. He was a very fair teacher and very supportive [of me].”

Now, Victoria Bond is having her music performed by the Berlin Philharmonic with the world premiere of Clara.

Clara Schumann circa 1850

“Her life has a very personal application to my own life with my mother. I come from a musical family and my mother was a child prodigy and her first teacher was her father and her father was also a great musician, a great music teacher, and created her career. When she was very young, my mother won the Liszt Competition, went to Hungary, studied with Bartók, toured and concertized when she was just a teenager, and she would tell me the stories of her travels and what it was like being a young girl basically on her own on the road. When I read the biography of Clara Schumann, it reminded me so much of my mother’s story. I have such boundless admiration for Clara Schumann, because as the first professional woman going out and giving concerts on her own, plus being a mother of seven children, being married to Robert Schumann, being the inspiration for Robert and for Johannes Brahms, and being an extraordinary and original composer, I mean, what an amazing combination! She should be an iconic composer and I think now that there’s more interest and emphasis on women composers, she is starting to be recognized more and more and programmed on concerts. But it wasn’t just because of her lack of recognition that I was drawn to her—it was who she was: her personality, her perseverance, her brilliance, and her humanity. Plus, it’s a fascinating story! I mean, her relationship with Robert, with her father, with Brahms. I won’t say it’s a soap opera, but it’s a very dramatic story.”

Victoria Bond’s opera Clara premiered last week at the Berlin Philharmonic’s Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, Germany. It gets another run there in May and June. You can find out more at baden-baden.de.

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