CAMILLE CLAUDEL

a two-act opera for an eternal artist

Camille Claudel – La Valse, 1893 [1]

Why compose an opera based on the life of Camille Claudel?

In fact, it all started with a movie. I was flipping through channels and landed on Arte, where they were playing the wonderful 1988 movie about the life of Camille Claudel, starring Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani. Until then, I confess, I had never heard of Camille Claudel. I love Depardieu as an actor, and the movie was set in Paris late 1800s, a perfect combo for my taste. I kept watching, and what literally froze my blood was the scream of Camille towards the end of the movie, right outside Rodin’s house. It was the spark that ignited my creative fever. I frantically started looking on the bookshelves. I remembered having seen a book on the subject. And there it was, a book on Camille Claudel. I read the book overnight, started doing more research, and became obsessed. While still reading, I started to jot down an outline of the story, and the script at the same time.

Gumption ‘n Rose

 

Rose Beuret, long life companion of Rodin, was not initially part of the plan. After all the opera already had two main female characters, the old and the young Camille. But one night, while writing the duet in the second act between Camille and Rodin, she simply burst in through the door. I could see her and feel her vomiting rage on the woman who was stealing her husband. It was a game changer. The following scenes just came as a result and the whole second act took shape. When I look at it now, her character seems to be of no importance at first: she’s not in the first act and she comes in as a sorry monster at the beginning of the second. But her passion is soon revealed and with it, the importance she plays in the downfall of Camille.

Camille Claudel, before 1883

I’ve never been in love with her, but I certainly respect her: she stood by her husband for a lifetime, despite his numerous infidelities and fought for him to the end. Rodin only married her 3 years before her death. A woman of gumption and passion in her own way. Maybe she was not able to ignite Rodin’s fire the way Camille did – after all these two had a major thing in common: sculpting. But she took care of everything else, allowing him to live the life he lived.

A rare footage of Rodin at work in his study

Synopsys

Act I

Prologue

Camille and her young brother Paul spend the last days, before moving to Paris with their family, playing in the countryside and the hills, imagining their future. The carelessness mood is broken by the entry on stage of an old Camille Claudel, who calls the young Camille from the nursing home for the mentally ill where young Camille will be locked up a few years later. The scene freezes: Paul does not hear anything, but young Camille, though pretending not to, feels the gloomy call. The old Camille becomes more insistent and evokes her desire to return to Villeneuve, in contrast with the young Camille who can not wait to leave the small town of Nogent for Paris.

Scene I

Camille and Paul wander around the streets of Paris, where the family has now moved. While Paul is frightened and repelled by certain aspects of the city, Camille is fascinated by it. Her Brother reprimands her, wanting more and more to present himself as a balanced person with good sense.Camille derides him, making a mockery of his moderation and calmness, close to boredom. The scene continues with brotherly bickering – punctuated by interventions of the old Camille – until Paul questions the artistic qualities of Rodin, at the studio where Camille works, and those of Camille herself: the discussion degenerates into a fight and, after hitting his brother, Camille heads furiously toward the studio of Rodin.

Scene II

Camille enters the studio and sees from afar the master at work. Slowly approaching, she seems to see her own features in the bust Rodin is sculpting. Rodin invites her to work on a part of the sculpture, letting out a comment on the beauty of his pupil. Timidly, he tries to pull away, but when Camille tries to leave he passionately takes her arms and reveals her his feelings. Camille initially resists him, shifting the attention to the fact that Rodin criticizes her work and really seems not to like her as an artist. Rodin, on the contrary, sees the rarity of Camille’s natural talent, which has become his new source of inspiration. Camille finally gives way and they are overwhelmed by the ecstasy of passion.

Femme de Gérardmer (Vosges), 1885

Act II

Scene I

Rodin, alone in the studio-apartment he has rented for himself and Camille, is reached by his long-term companion Rose who tries forcing him to come back home, pointing out all she has done for him and that they have a son together. Rodin does not give in and Rose leaves.

Scene II

Camille enters and she and Rodin begin to laugh and joke lightheartedly, humming a popular tune and stealing each other the sculpting tools. Rodin invites her to dance, but Camille has some problems because of her bad leg. Rodin makes her sit and goes out to buy something to drink. Before he can leave, Camille stops him and starts asking him questions about his new project, which she feels has not been involved with. Feeling she has been put aside, Camille gets upset with Rodin, who tries to reassure her. She cools off and Rodin finally is able to get out.

Scene III

Rose suddenly enters and begins to furiously insult Camille while looking for Rodin. Rose takes one of Camille’s sculptures to throw it to the ground, Camille rushes to stop her and begins to hit her, until Rose falls down. Even when she is on the ground, Camille does not stop. Rodin comes back in and Camille stops, Rose remains still on the ground, Rodin goes and leans over her. He takes a wet cloth, uncovering one of his sculptures, and puts it on her forehead. Rose slowly opens her eyes. Rodin helps her up and they start to leave the scene. Meanwhile, Camille noticed that the bust discovered by Rodin is very similar to one of her sculptures. Camille asks for an explanation and gradually uncovers other sculptures that Rodin has copied. While Rose accuses her of plagiarism, Rodin remains impassive, suggesting that no one would ever believe that the great Rodin could copy one of his students.

Scene IV

Rodin and Rose are about to leave, but Camille, furious, holds them. Paul comes in. Camille tries to hurl against Rose, but Paul holds her. Rose takes Rodin away. Young Camille pounces on her sculptures and throws them to the ground, destroying them. The old Camille reappears. Paul tries to calm Camille, while old Camille hangs over her brandishing the ghost of her annihilation as an artist. Camille falls to her knees, betrayed by the great Rodin [Scene as “L’Age Mûr”.]

L’Âge mûr, 1898-1913

Sung in Italian. Scoring:

  • Young Camille Claudel, soprano
  • Auguste Rodin, baritone
  • Old Camille Claudel, alto
  • Rose Beuret, mezzo
  • Paul Claudel, tenor

1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 horn, 1 harp, percussions (2 players), strings.

The Symphonic Sketches are derived from the musical material of the opera.

This is a midi rendering. Mixing by Raymond van Melzen.

Camille Claudel was premiered in Italy, in Cittá della Pieve and in Pavia, in 2013 produced by International Opera Theater of Philadelphia in partnership with Consulate General of Italy in Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Institute, Italy America Chamber of Commerce, Alliance Française de Philadelphie, University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Photos by Ornella Tiberi from the 2013 production

Interpreters:

Violetta Lazin, soprano – young Camille Claudel

Natalie Burdeny, alto – old Camille

Manuel Gorka, baritone – Auguste Rodin

Michaela Magoga, mezzo – Rose Beuret

Dongnyuk Kim, tenor – Paul Claudel

Learae Frenock, dancer – Camille’s scultpure

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

If you need more information on the opera, score, parts and performance rights drop me an e-mail at info@gianmariagriglio.it

7 + 2 =

Credits:

La valse – photo created by Scott Lanphere – no changes have been made to the original picture

“Femme de Gérardmer (Vosges)” by Camille Claudel (1885)

Background photo by Pelly BenassiMickael Gresset

Camille Claudel – opera in two acts by Gianmaria Griglio, all rights reserved for all countries

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