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FULL Fred Plotkin on Fridays Interview Composer Jake Heggie 2023

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Information about the Recording
  • Published by: IDAGIO  
  • Date Published: 2023  
  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: yessubs, ensubs, gensubs  
  • Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO

Jake Heggie (born March 31, 1961) is an American composer of opera, vocal, orchestral, and chamber music. He is best known for his operas and art songs as well as for his collaborations with internationally renowned performers and writers.

Heggie is most known for his contributions to the American operatic repertoire. Hailed by the Associated Press as “one of the pre-eminent contemporary opera composers,”his operas have entered the standard repertory with the likes of American composers Carlisle Floyd, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Douglas Moore, as well as with those of his contemporaries. Heggie describes himself as a theatre composer who is concerned with “serving [the] drama” and “exploring character.”

Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking, with a libretto by Terrence McNally, is an opera in two acts. Based on the narrative book by Sister Helen Prejean, it tells the story of a Louisiana nun who becomes the spiritual advisor to a convicted murderer on Angola’s death row. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the opera received its highly acclaimed first performance at the War Memorial Opera House on October 7, 2000, in a production that starred Susan Graham (Sister Helen), John Packard (Joseph De Rocher), and Frederica von Stade (Joseph’s Mother), with conductor Patrick Summers leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. It was directed by Joe Mantello and designed by Michael Yeargan, with lighting by Jennifer Tipton and costumes by Sam Flemming. Due to popular demand, the original production of seven performances was increased to nine, most of them completely sold out. The original version of Dead Man Walking was revised during the East Coast premiere at New York City Opera in September 2002.

At present, Dead Man Walking has been seen internationally in more than 70 productions on five continents. It has received two live recordings: the first on ERATO of the original cast in 2000 and the second on Virgin Classics from Houston Grand Opera in 2011, starring Joyce DiDonato (Sister Helen), Philip Cutlip (Joseph), and Frederica von Stade (Joseph’s Mother). The creation of the opera was the subject of a documentary, And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking, which aired nationally on PBS in 2002. ‘Dead Man Walking’is scheduled to have its Metropolitan Opera debut in 2021 in a new production by Ivo Van Hove, conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Several productions of Dead Man Walking have been created, including a widely performed version by director Leonard Foglia with designs by Michael McGarty. The first European production was at the Dresden Semperoper in 2006, directed by Niklaus Lehnhoff and repeated at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 2007. The Australian premiere at the 2003 Adelaide Festival featured the original production by Joe Mantello, while the Canadian premiere at the Calgary Opera in 2006 featured a new production by Kelly Robinson. Over the years, additional productions have been mounted by companies in Sweden, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, Montreal, and recently in the United States by Opera Parallèle in San Francisco, as well as companies in Boston, St. Louis, Eugene, Central City, Des Moines, and at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University. In 2008, a reduced orchestration was created for a production at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. That orchestration was further edited in 2013 and is now widely used.

Other early operas
Again (with a libretto by Kevin Gregory) was commissioned and premiered by the EOS Orchestra in 2000, shortly before the premiere of Dead Man Walking. The opera involved domestic abuse and the four main characters from the television sitcom I Love Lucy in the context that Ricky Ricardo had become physically abusive toward his wife, Lucy.

The End of the Affair, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera in 2003 with a libretto by playwright Heather McDonald, is based on the novel of the same name by Graham Greene. Set in London during and just after World War II, the opera tells the story of Maurice Bendrix, a writer involved in an illicit love affair with Sarah Miles, the wife of a public servant. During one of their trysts, an air raid occurs: a bomb explodes that destroys the house and knocks Maurice unconscious. When Maurice comes to, Sarah leaves abruptly and vows never to see him again. Obsessed, jealous and angry, Maurice sets upon a journey to discover what happened and why he was abandoned that day. The work received its premiere in March 2004 at Houston Grand Opera. The opera was then extensively revised with additional libretto material added by Heggie and director Leonard Foglia. The revised opera was performed at the Madison Opera in 2005, with further revisions made by Heggie and Foglia that same year at the Seattle Opera.

In 2005, Heggie and McNally collaborated on At the Statue of Venus, commissioned by Opera Colorado to celebrate the opening of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Deemed “an operatic scene for soprano and piano,” At the Statue of Venus is inspired by the great concert scenas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Britten: an attractive woman waits in a museum by a statue of the Goddess of Love to meet a man she has never seen. Soprano Talise Trevigne has recorded the opera in its entirety, and its aria “A Lucky Child” is frequently performed in recital.

To Hell and Back was commissioned in 2006 by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to celebrate its 25th season, and the 20th anniversary of music director Nicholas McGegan. With a libretto by Gene Scheer, the opera is based on the Greco-Roman myth of Persephone, the goddess of spring, who was abducted to the underworld by the god Pluto and must spend half the year with him there. Scheer based his text on the story as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, formulating a modern tale inspired by the many versions of the Persephone myth and modern stories of spousal abuse. The opera was written for and performed by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and Broadway star Patti LuPone.

Three Decembers was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera in 2008. Originally slated to be a commercial musical theatre production with music by Heggie, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and a book by Terrence McNally, the story manifested on the operatic stage after Schwartz withdrew to collaborate with Alan Menken on the 2007 film Enchanted. Based on Terrence McNally’s unpublished script Some Christmas Letters and with a libretto by Gene Scheer, Three Decembers tells the story of a famous stage actress and her two adult children over three decades of the AIDS crisis (1986, 1996, and 2006), each year recalling the events of a December as the characters struggle to connect when family secrets are revealed. Originally titled Last Acts, the opera was recorded live at the 2008 premiere and then revised. Currently, the revised work has not yet been recorded.

Upon its premiere, Moby-Dick was greeted with the most enthusiastic reviews Heggie had experienced since Dead Man Walking. D Magazine wrote, “a new chapter in opera history may have opened [with Moby-Dick],” with the Dallas Morning News applauding the work as “a triumph.”

Moby-Dick (2010) is an opera in two acts with a libretto by Gene Scheer based on the novel by Herman Melville. Set in 1820, it tells the story of Ahab, captain of the ill-fated whaleship Pequod, and the crew he commands. Having lost one of his legs to the white whale called Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab is obsessed with finding and destroying him at any cost. Only the ship’s first mate, Starbuck, sees the deadly implications of Ahab’s obsession.

Moby-Dick was commissioned by the Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera, Calgary Opera, San Diego Opera, and the State Opera of South Australia. It received its highly acclaimed world premiere on April 30, 2010, at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas, as part of its inaugural season. Conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by Leonard Foglia, the production featured sets by Robert Brill, projections by Elaine McCarthy, lighting by Donald Holder, and costumes by Jane Greenwood. The cast included tenor Ben Heppner (Ahab), baritone Morgan Smith (Starbuck), tenor Stephen Costello (Greenhorn), bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), soprano Talise Trevigne (Pip), baritone Robert Orth (Stubb), and tenor Matthew O’Neill (Flask).

The 2012 production of Moby-Dick at San Francisco Opera was featured on Great Performances’ 40th Season, telecast nationally in 2013 and subsequently released on DVD (EuroArts). That same year, Heggie & Scheer’s Moby-Dick: A Grand Opera for the 21st Century, a book by Robert Wallace, with photos by Karen Almond, about the making of the opera was published by UNT Press. Moby-Dick received its East Coast premiere in February 2014 in a production by the Washington National Opera.

Recent operatic works
Music of Remembrance (MOR), a Seattle-based concert series founded by Artistic Director Mina Miller, approached Heggie in 2006 to create what would become a series of three one-act operas on themes of persecution during the Holocaust. The works, each with a libretto by Gene Scheer, are For a Look or a Touch (2007), Another Sunrise (2012), and Farewell, Auschwitz (2013).

For a Look or a Touch is a story about the persecution of gay men during the Holocaust. Scheer based his text on true stories told in the documentary film Paragraph 175 and the journal of Manfred Lewin, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Heggie later adapted For a Look or a Touch for two other performing formats: a stage version with men’s choir, and as a song cycle for baritone solo.

Another Sunrise is a dramatic scene for soprano and chamber ensemble (clarinet, violin, cello, bass, and piano) based on the life and work of Holocaust survivor Krystyna Zywulska.

Farewell, Auschwitz consists of seven scenes for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and baritone. The work exists in a chamber version for singers and piano, as well as in orchestration with clarinet, violin, cello, bass, and piano. In this opera, Scheer’s lyrics are free translations of lyrics created by Krystyna Zywulska while she was imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Heggie and Scheer created a full-length opera titled Out of Darkness based on the three works they created for Music of Remembrance. The new opera received its premiere in Seattle in May 2016, followed by performances in San Francisco. At present, a recording titled Out of Darkness (Naxos) offers the original versions of Another Sunrise and Farewell, Auschwitz, as well as the song-cycle version of For a Look or a Touch.

In 2014, Pacific Chorale, VocalEssence, Conspirare, and the Philadelphia Singers commissioned Heggie and Scheer to compose The Radio Hour, a choral opera in one act. The opera focuses on an unhappy middle-aged woman disillusioned with her life and dully going through the motions of daily drudgery. Some of the choristers are the negative voices incessantly chiming inside her head, while others beckon to her from the radio. Singers even play the furniture in her room, with bodies comprising a chair, a lamp and a mirror.

Great Scott, with an original libretto by Terrence McNally, received its premiere at the Dallas Opera on October 30, 2015. In Great Scott, opera star Arden Scott returns to her hometown to save the struggling company that launched her career. The opening night performance of the long-lost opera she discovered falls on the same night as the home team’s first football championship. The opera starred mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Frederica von Stade, soprano Ailyn Pérez, baritone Nathan Gunn and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Great Scott marked the third collaboration between Heggie and McNally. The work was enthusiastically received and the Heggie received a 2019 Grammy Nomination for Best New Composition (Classical).

Heggie’s 2016 operatic adaptation of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s story “The Greatest Gift” and made famous by the 1946 Frank Capra film, the opera follows the journey of George Bailey, a troubled banker about to end his own life on Christmas Eve only to be saved when his guardian angel helps him realize how many lives he has touched. It’s a Wonderful Life had its world premiere December 2016 in the Wortham Theater Center’s Cullen Theater. In 2017 PENTATONE released a live recording of the opera, performed by the Houston Grand Opera. Heggie and Scheer revised the piece following the premiere. It was subsequently performed to rave reviews at the San Francisco Opera.

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