Jake Heggie is an opera heavyweight on his own. Team him with librettist Gene Scheer, director Leonard Foglia, and Houston Grand Opera artistic/music director Patrick Summers, and you’re looking at one of the dreamiest dream teams of the genre.
Heggie is the composer of Dead Man Walking and one of opera’s ascendant stars. Scheer was nominated for a Grammy Award for his oratorio work on August 4th, 1964. Foglia produced Dead Man Walking, which travels to Europe soon after its 50th international production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in February. And Summers, of course, leads HGO, the only opera company in the world to have won Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards.
“We complete each other’s sentences.... Those synergistic creative relationships are very rare in this world, and we all know it,” says Summers, about the four-person collaboration that has successfully executed premieres of Three Decembers and Moby-Dick, and this season, debuts It’s a Wonderful Life, a re-imagining of Frank Capra’s 1946 film.
“Jake Heggie is one of the greatest musical dramatists, and in opera it is the composer who must be the leading dramatist. When he and I were discussing ideas for holiday operas, this work came to the forefront of our imaginations,” says Summers. “Almost every composer has themes to which they constantly return. Unquestionably, Jake’s is identity, so it is unsurprising that this miraculous story about a man being shown his life as though he’d never lived would appeal to Jake.”
The world premiere isn’t a straightforward reprise of the Christmas drama starring Jimmy Stewart as the depressed George Bailey, who’s shown a fantastical reality check after he wishes he’d never been born. Instead, the opera is told from the perspective of the angel Clara (in the film, it’s Clarence, played by Henry Travers).
“The entire opera takes place in her world, which is an infinity field of doors—not heaven but also not earth; we are somewhere between here and there—and this gives the opera a feeling that will connect it to the film, for those many who love it, while also remaining true to the operatic art,” says Summers. “Jake is brilliant at musical storytelling, so audiences who know the film will find the opera captivating and fascinating.”
It's a Wonderful Life, Dec 2–17. $45–127. Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave., 713-228-6737. houstongrandopera.org