The Great Claire Croiza
Claire Croiza was born in 1882 in Paris, the daughter of an American father and an Italian mother. She was, even as a child, clearly gifed in music. She was taught singing privately at first, but then, as she began to grow up, she had the great good fortune to have been sent to the famous Polish tenor Jean de Reszke for further study. De Reszke was not only a great tenor—one of the best of his day, in the 19th century—but also, importantly, a renowned teacher and he taught many aspiring singers who would go on to have great success.
After advanced study with de Reszke, Croize made her opera début at the relatively tender age of 23 in Nancy in 1905 in Messaline by Isidore de Lara. The following year she made her first appearance at La Monnaie in Brussels, as Dalila in Samson et Dalila, beginning a long association with that theatre which included such works as Elektra, Carmen, La favorite, Werther and singing the title role in Fauré's opera Pénélope. In 1910 she performed in the world premiere of Cesare Galeotti’s La Dorise and created the title role in the world premiere of Pierre de Bréville's Éros vainqueur at La Monnaie. It was again as Dalila that she made her Paris Opera début in 1908. Although Croiza first established herself as an operatic singer, she increasingly developed her career as a recitalist specialising in mélodies, and she undertook recital tours in numerous countries, including making frequent visits to London where she was very well received. She had a great feeling for the French language and was always able to enunciate the words in a clear and natural way without sacrificing the flow of the music. Several contemporary composers chose to accompany her personally in performances of their songs, including Ravel (in Shéhérazade), Fauré (in the premiere of Le jardin clos), Poulenc, Roussel, and Honegger.
Here, however, is one of the fairly rare operatic recordings which Croiza made with Armand
Narçon of excerpts from Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande:
From 1922, she also worked as a teacher, giving classes in interpretation at the École Normale, and from 1934 at the Paris Conservatoire. Her pupils included Janine Micheau, Suzanne Juyol, Camille Maurane and the baritones Jacques Jansen and Gérard Souzay.
In 1926 Croiza gave birth to a son, Jean-Claude (1926–2003), whose father was Honegger, The parents did not marry. Although distinct, her personal life was not all that far from the traditional personal lives of famous artists of her day. As for her artistic reputation, it was, virtually from the beginning, truly extraordinary. Reviews from the early 1930’s spoke of her as “ a supreme interpreter of modern French song, saying that she “brings to them an exquisite sensibility that reveals every shade of meaning in the poems" (New York Times). This view was reinforced in an obituary tribute (also in The New York Times) which spoke of: "Her consummate musicianship, unerring in its intuition, sensitiveness, charm and subtlety, exquisite diction and phrasing, combined with deep poetical feeling and a restrained but profoundly moving dramatic sense allied to an unusually wide culture…”
Reduced to their essence, these critical comments have a theme, and that is one that can be further summarized by words such as “elegance, ” sensitivity, “ intellectual precision,” and “musical excellence.” Here is an example; one which I will be bold enough to call typical. Here is Duparc’s “Invitation au voyage:
Finally, here is one of the most elegantly beautiful pieces of music ever penned by the great Debussy, who was most fortunated to have it recorded by the amazing Claire Croiza: