Jake Heggie’s new two-disc recording of music set to texts by Gene Scheer is available today from PentaTone Classics. Featured in the recordings is Heggie’s recent work Camille Claudel: Into the Fire recorded by the Alexander String Quartet and Joyce DiDonato.
Camille Claudel: Into the Fire
Camille Claudel: Into the Fire is a cycle of seven songs that gives voice to the brilliant French sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943). Consigned to an asylum for the last three decades of her life, Claudel was until recently all but forgotten, her reputation subsumed even in death by that of her illustrious lover, Auguste Rodin. Yet, as Heggie recounts in his full and illuminating liner notes, her art and letters survive her, granting glimpses of her long-lost voice:
“She was a creative genius at a time when a woman was rarely taken seriously on her own, and usually only in connection with a man. For Claudel, that was Rodin: her mentor, teacher, and lover. Their stormy romance, warring egos, clashing genius, her bold life choices, his broken promises, and the mental illness that would lead to her 30-year confinement in a remote asylum – these are all part of her tragic story. But only part. For there are her sculptures: sublime, beautiful, inspired, aching – dancing and singing to us through time.”
Drawing on the sculptor’s own letters and journals, Gene Scheer’s poetry imagines Claudel on the day she is taken to the asylum, addressing six of her masterpieces. In a poignant epilogue, the final song depicts Claudel in old age, during a rare visit from an old school friend. A video trailer featuring an excerpt from the fifth song, The Gossips, may be viewed here.
The cycle was composed for mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and the Alexander String Quartet in celebration of the ensemble’s 30th anniversary. The San Francisco Chronicle described the premiere as “ravishing,” and added, “The ovation was tumultuous and well deserved, not only for the piece but also for the luminous and fiercely lovely performance.” San Francisco Classical Voice declared: “Heggie has made the cycle a glowing showcase for the vocalist. … This is a work that sings, ardently, melodically, and dramatically.” The review concludes: “DiDonato, accompanied by the Alexander String Quartet, [gave] a moving, stunningly beautiful performance.”
This was not DiDonato’s first collaboration with the composer, and indeed, she sings Sister Helen Prejean on Virgin Classics’ “sensational” (The Guardian, UK) recording of his hit opera Dead Man Walking. A Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee, the mezzo’s numerous honors include the 2012 Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Solo, Gramophone’s Artist of the Year, and Echo Klassik’s Female Singer of the Year.