Composer of Dead Man Walking will workshop new opera at CU
By Peter Alexander
Jake Heggie, a composer who achieved considerable renown in 2000 with his opera Dead Man Walking, will visit the University of Colorado College of Music for three weeks in June.
Heggie will be in Boulder to develop a new opera at the Eklund Opera Program’s CU New Opera Workshop (CU NOW). The new work, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, will be based on the 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
At the end of the workshop period, portions of the new work will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday , June 19, in the ATLAS Black Box Theater, located in the basement of the Roser ATLAS Building on the CU campus. These performances will be free and open to the public.
Seating will be first come, first served. The ATLAS Black Box Theater seats approximately 80–100.
It’s a Wonderful Life has been commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera (HGO). The workshop process will allow Heggie and Scheer to work with CU students, trying portions of the new opera, making changes and rewriting as they go. Leonard Foglia, director of the HGO who will stage direct the world premier of It’s a Wonderful Life in Houston, will also be working with the student singers during the workshop, along with Jeremy Reger, a vocal coach with the CU Eklund Opera Program.
At the end of the workshop performances, the composer and librettist will ask for questions and feedback from the audience. Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program, says “These workshops are for the intellectually curious. With the question and answer sessions, the creative team learns so much from the people asking the questions!”
Dead Man Walking, with a libretto by playwright Terence McNally based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, took the operatic world by storm in 2000. His other operatic works have included Three Decembers (libretto by Scheer, 2008), Moby Dick (libretto by Scheer, 2010), and Great Scott (libretto by McNally, 2015).
Dead Man Walking has been presented more than 50 times around the world. It was produced by CU in 2007 and by Central City Opera in 2014. Central City Opera also presented Heggie’s Three Decembers in 2010.
One of the busiest opera librettists working today, Scheer has collaborated with several prominent composers. In addition to the work he has done with Heggie, his works include An American Tragedy by Tobias Picker, premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005, and last year’s Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon, premiered at the Santa Fe Opera.
This will be the seventh year for the CU NOW program. Previous operas that were developed through a CU NOW workshop have included Kirke Mechem’s Pride and Prejudice, Herschel Garfein’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Alberto Caruso’s The Master, and Zach Redler’s A Song for Susan Smith.