Tuesday 3 March 2015

The Wall Street Journal: A West Coaster With a Global Reputation



Jake Heggie studied to be a concert pianist and composer but an injury forced him to give up on his goals. While working in the San Francisco Opera's public relations department, colleagues urged Lotfi Mansouri, the general director at the time, to give some of Heggie's songs a listen. Heggie's work charmed Mansouri so much that the composer was given a commission. He was asked to write the score for "Dead Man Walking," a book by Sister Helen Prejean. It was by no means a walk in the park, but Heggie sailed through, and the rest is history.
 
Jake Heggie’s global reputation has been built primarily on the success of his operas, which also include “The End of the Affair” (2004), “At the Statue of Venus” (2005), “To Hell and Back” (2006), “Three Decembers” (2008) and “Moby-Dick” (2010). The brilliant, bitter chamber opera “Three Decembers,” with a libretto adapted from Mr. McNally’s play by Gene Scheer, has been performed more than 50 times in a dozen cities. The original Dallas production of the character-driven “Moby-Dick,” whose libretto Mr. Scheer distilled from the Melville’s 212,000-word novel, has been re-created in Adelaide, Australia; Calgary, Canada; San Diego, San Francisco and Washington. A Los Angeles run is scheduled for October, and a return to Dallas next year.
 
In 2014, Mr. Heggie wrote an authoritative essay on “Composing Opera” for the Oxford Handbook of Opera, based on his own experience and that of seven other living composers. His only rival in that arena may be his Bay Area neighbor John Adams. In fact, Mr. Heggie may well be the richest, most accessible, most captivating opera composer since Benjamin Britten—perhaps because, like Britten, he makes such skillful use (in his own unmistakable voice) of earlier and more popular music. He reduces major universal issues to credible personal stories, to which a listener can connect. He won’t even try to create an opera except as part of a sympathetic team—which includes singers and conductor as well as librettist and director. “They bring out the best in me,” Mr. Heggie said to me recently. “They give me courage to take chances I would not have found in myself. I can’t do this alone.”
 
We are honoured to have been working together with the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer. Don’t just take our word for it, find out here what the Wall Street Journal says.