Jake Heggie & Gene Scheer's HERE/AFTER: SONGS OF LOST VOICES Out Today
Today, October 21 marks the release of HERE/AFTER: Songs of Lost Voices, a two-CD set of recent songs and music by Jake Heggie, "the finest American art song composer of his generation" (John von Rhein, Classical Review), to texts by the Grammy Award-nominated Gene Scheer. The generous PentaTone Classics collection features more than two hours of music from the composer and librettist of the operas Moby-Dick and Three Decembers, with performances by some of the foremost exponents of their work, including soprano Talise Trevigne, mezzo Joyce DiDonato, tenor Stephen Costello, baritone Nathan Gunn, flutistCarol Wincenc, and the Alexander String Quartet. Recorded at LucasFilm's Skywalker Ranch and produced by Grammy Award-winner Steve Barnett,HERE/AFTER seeks to give voice to silenced individuals whose stories deserve to be heard, including victims and survivors of 9/11 (Pieces of 9/11) and the great French sculptor Camille Claudel (Camille Claudel: Into the Fire). The composer explains that he and Scheer set out to capture "the hope and newness that can come from grief," and, as the Associated Press recently recognized, HERE/AFTER succeeds in transmuting "memories of grief into survivor songs - some of them surprisingly joyous." Video trailers featuring excerpts from five of the songs may be viewed here.
Heggie and Scheer's projects together have included numerous songs as well as the highly acclaimed operas Three Decembers (2008), "a modern masterpiece" (Opera Now), and Moby-Dick (2010), proclaimed "an undeniable success" (New York Times), "a triumph" (Dallas Morning News), "one of the most satisfying new operas I've seen" (Washington Post), and "a great American opera" (Opera Now).
Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (2012)
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.
Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston (2011)
Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera's HGOco to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks and to "reflect some of the stories and feelings that took place in Houston that day." The cycle's opening and closing lines derive from a self-help book that Houston native Lauren Catuzzi was writing when she was killed on United Airlines Flight 93. Scheer based the remaining lyrics on original interviews with first responders from Houston's Texas Task Force One, and with local city officials, teachers, students, and community members. Scheer wrote:
"The conversations were serious, honest, frequently surprising, and - without exception - profoundly moving. A deep sense of loss was, of course, a major theme; but just as powerful was the extraordinary love expressed for each other and the miracle of life itself."
The soprano on the recording of Pieces of 9/11, Talise Trevigne, also gave the work's premiere. Heggie calls her "an artist I want to work with again and again." It was Trevigne who created the role of Pip in Moby-Dick, impressing the New York Times with her "riveting" performance. Similarly, her solo albumAt the Statue of Venus, which features two more of Heggie's song cycles, prompted the Operagasm blog to counsel: "Drop everything and listen, " in a review that noted her "refined voice and artistry" and "beautiful interpretation." Joining Trevigne on Pieces of 9/11 are Grammy Award-winning baritone Nathan Gunn, another of the composer's regular collaborators; the young sopranos Ekaterina Gorlova and Ashley Traughber, high-school students when they gave the premiere; and a small chamber ensemble of flute, violin, guitar and cello. Video trailers of excerpts from the cycle, featuring Trevigne and Gunn, may be viewed here and here.
Soliloquy (2012) is a short piece for flute and piano based on the song "Beyond" from Pieces of 9/11. It is performed by flutist Carol Wincenc, winner of a Grammy and the National Flute Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, with the composer at the piano. The two have collaborated on many occasions; Wincenc describes their first meeting as one of those times "when you meet a very old soul and you connect immediately."
A Question of Light (2011)
Like Pieces of 9/11, A Question of Light has its roots in Texas, being commissioned by the Dallas Opera and inspired by six major artworks in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art. Scheer's poems - based on works by Magritte, Caillebotte, Mondrian, Tamayo, Murphy, and a Mayan Flint - represent deeply personal responses to the artwork. Heggie explains, "It's all a question of the light in which one sees the painting, and how that reflects what we see in ourselves." Likewise, in his settings, each song becomes "an emotional and musical response to the image and the poetry, as if one were walking through a museum and suddenly taken by surprise."
As on the new recording, it was Nathan Gunn who gave the cycle's world premiere, with Heggie at the piano. Calling A Question of Light "a beautiful fusion of art, music, and voice," Examiner.com declared: "Gunn's deep rich voice was magnetic and he displayed undeniable star power. The combination was irresistible." The Dallas Morning News added "with matinee-idol good looks, Gunn has a gorgeous lyric baritone and unaffected diction," before noting "Heggie accompanied sensitively." As for the cycle itself, critic Scott Cantrell predicted: "These songs should have legs."
Rise and Fall (2007)
Fine art also helped shape Rise and Fall, a cycle that Heggie describes as depicting "four episodes in a woman's life through art objects at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art." San Francisco Classical Voice said its four songs boasted "some of the most spiritually provocative poetry of an evening distinguished by its contrast of the spiritual and the profane." Accompanied by Heggie at the piano, the cycle's soprano soloist is Talise Trevigne.
Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc (2008)
The inspiration for Friendly Persuasions was the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Heggie explains that its songs are about "four pivotal friendships in Poulenc's life; friendships that profoundly influenced his life and work," and that his own music was "influenced by Poulenc's unique harmonic vocabulary." According to the Los Angeles Times, the cycle's snapshots are presented "in imaginative ways that ring true. ... Heggie deftly and quickly sketches the multiple musical personalities of Poulenc without imitating him per se." A video trailer of the cycle's third song may be viewed here.
Friendly Persuasion's tenor soloist is Richard Tucker Award-winner Stephen Costello, who inaugurated the starring role of Greenhorn in Heggie and Scheer'sMoby-Dick, when Opera magazine styled him "a tenor of ineffable sensitivity, with unfailing elegance in singing and a disconcerting ease in producing notes in head-voice." Costello later reprised the role in San Francisco Opera's presentation of the work, when he impressed the San Francisco Chronicle with his "bright-toned, sympathetic Greenhorn." That performance will be televised nationwide on November 1, in a high-definition live-to-tape broadcast ofSan Francisco Opera's Moby-Dick on PBS's Great Performances.
Fury of Light (2009)
Fury of Light for flute and piano features Carol Wincenc, for whom the work was written, with the composer at the piano. They premiered Fury of Lighttogether, and after a subsequent rendition, San Francisco Classical Voice described theirs, fittingly, as the "definitive performance of a wonderful work that demands a recording." The work was inspired by Mary Oliver's seminal poem "Sunrise."
A full track listing of HERE/AFTER: Songs of Lost Voices is provided below, and more information is available at the composer's web site: jakeheggie.com.