It’s a Wonderful Life available Friday–Saturday, Nov. 10–11, from Indiana University
By Peter Alexander
It’s a Wonderful Life, the opera by Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer based on the beloved film of the same title, was workshopped in Boulder as part of the CU New Opera Workshop (CU NOW) in June, 2016. The world premiere followed at the Houston Grand Opera.
Now Boulder audiences will be able to see that original production, in a revised version of the score, through livestreaming from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. Performances will be available live at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time (7:30 p.m. EST), Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11. The performances will be streamed from the Musical Arts Center on the IU campus in Bloomington.
All live streams and archived performances from the Jacobs School of Music are available here.
It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, with the Jacobs School of Music and the San Francisco Opera, all of whom will share the original production. The world premiere was in Houston Dec. 2, 2016. Indiana performances will be Nov. 10, 11, 16 and 17, with the first two streamed live.
The San Francisco Opera will present It’s a Wonderful Life during the 2018–19 season. After that, the next scheduled performances, and the first new production will be presented in Boulder by the CU Eklund Opera program in 2019.
Since the Houston opening, Heggie and Scheer have made a number of revisions to the opera. Heggie is currently in Bloomington observing rehearsals, to make sure that the changes work well on stage.
“The spots where it needed revision seemed very clear to me and to Gene, once we saw the production [in Houston],” Heggie says. “We cut a lot of material but we also rewrote, and I added new material where it was needed.”
Compared to the version performed in Houston and the workshop performances in Boulder, there are some major changes. “The whole prologue is cut way down so we get right into the story,” Heggie says. “We’ve tightened things up to make sure that we’re always telling the story.”
Heggie has also written some new material. “I expanded two arias, one for George and one for Mary in Act I that really help them open their hearts, and then I’ve added a beautiful—I think—duet between Mary Bailey and Claire the angel in Act II,” he says.
While Heggie has made revisions in earlier operas, he says these are the most extensive changes he’s ever made. “We cut an entire character—Mr. Gower, the pharmacist,” he explains. “We realized that we actually didn’t miss anything. We got all of the information we needed elsewhere, and the thing is that in opera you’ve got to move things along so that there’s time for the music to tell the story.”
The result of all these changes is that the opera has been tightened to a total running time of less than two hours. Heggie expects that these will be the last changes he will make, meaning that the version livestreamed from Bloomington will be the same for both San Francisco and the CU production. “My hope is that we’re really set after IU, and that we don’t have to do any more tinkering or trimming,” he says.
Indiana University’s other performances online
The Jacobs School of Music livestreaming site is a broad resource for classical music audiences, and especially opera fans. The school has a long and distinguished history of high-quality opera productions and other performances, dating back more than 50 years. Past opera productions and concert performances of both classical music and jazz from the Jacobs School of Music are available on demand.
All but the very oldest of the archived opera streams include subtitles throughout. According to Philip Ponella, the Leonard Phillips and Mary Wennerstrom Director of the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at IU and director of Music Information Technology for the Jacobs School of Music, performances are generally archived if copyright restrictions allow, and left on the site for as long as practical. The project is still being developed, and policies may change.
The current site has performances archived, available on demand, from the past eight seasons. Opera performances on the site include standard repertoire, including Don Giovanni, Carmen and La Bohéme; less familiar rarities including Puccini’s La Rondine and L’Étoile by Emmanuel Chabrier; new works including The Tale of Lady Thị Kính by P.Q. Phan; and several operas by Handel.
Ponella says that it is important for the school to provide public access to their performances, and they encourage access to their streams from around the country. “First of all, many of us are concerned about the future of classical music and opera and the kind of things that we do here,” Ponella says. “One thing [Jacobs School of Music] Dean Gwyn Richards says that resonates with many of us is, how can we be more relevant to more people.
“The other part is, we like to think that this is one of the best music schools in the United States, and when you’re not located in New York or Boston or Los Angeles, sometimes that’s a hard sell. This gives us the opportunity to walk the walk, and not just say this is a really great school.”
Ponella points out that the livestreamed performances also include a pre-performance presentation given by a musicology Ph.D. student in the school, presented 30 minutes before the livestream is scheduled to start. “As Dean Richards says, whenever we can, we show that we’re not just about performance but our academics are of equal quality. And the fact that we stream at this high level of quality points to the kind of institutional resources that we’re drawing upon as well.
“We’ve got a very large pipe out to the internet that many institutions don’t have access to, and (we have a) recording arts program and audio engineers.”
Classical Music Livestreamed from Indiana, Boulder, and around the World
IU is only one source of livestreamed performances available from around the world. In addition to the performances from the Jacobs School of Music, in Boulder faculty Tuesdays and other performances from the CU College of Music are available online.
Opera is available from many different sources, mostly by subscription but with occasional free performances. Livestreaming from individual companies include the Metropolitan Opera, The Vienna State Opera, and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich . There are also sites that bring operas from many different companies, such as OperaVision with productions from several European countries. A careful Google search will turn up other sites.
With so many different sources of performances that you can watch live from home, wearing your PJs and enjoying a bowl of popcorn or a glass of wine, for the classical music lover it really can be a wonderful life.
I’ll meet you at the computer!