Composer Jake Heggie is fifty-four years old, and is at the top of his game. He's not a Texan, but Jake has had major premieres and performances across the state: in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio! Renowned for his operas, Heggie is the recipient of the 2015 Eddie Medora King Award at UT Austin. He’ll give masterclasses in February 2016, and have two works, Three Decembers and At the Statue of Venus, performed as well. Jake is currently in Dallas preparing for the world premiere of his latest composition, Great Scott, an opera created with librettist Terrance McKnight .
Heggie spoke with KMFA’s John Clare about the new opera, his connection with Carlisle Floyd, and coming to Austin. A few excerpts from their conversation are below.
Technology has changed so much, even from 2001 and Dead Man Walking to today, sets can be projected. Does that make a difference when you are writing?
“It’s first and foremost about the drama.” Heggie says, “You have to be very careful about technology, that you don’t just use it gratuitously just because you can. It has to serve the story, and the drama, and the meaning of the piece. Projections, lighting, computer graphics, and technology are a great boon to the theater, as long as they are done well. But I also think it is great to be reminded about the way successful operas were premiered and have been done many times, which is the reason Traviata works; it’s because there are four acts in four different scenes only. So you have to maximize the dramatic situation in that one setting each time – and the danger with graphics and projections is that it is so easy to change location so quickly, that you can wind up not being invested in the story or the characters emotionally because things keep changing too fast.”
We’re excited about Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men this January in Austin, and I thought it was interesting that you both studied with Ernst Bacon.
“I didn’t know at the age of 17, how lucky I was to study with Ernst. We had moved from Ohio to California, and I didn’t know who I was going to study piano with, I didn’t know who I was going to do anything with, and my mother found this group, the Performing Arts Society, who had a composer’s group. I joined them – I was the youngest by far – and they took monthly group lessons with Ernst Bacon." Heggie ended up studying privately with Bacon at age 17, the same exact age that Carlisle Floyd studied with Bacon (many years before and in a different state!) - but both composers, Heggie and Floyd, are respected for their operatic works.
Great Scott premieres Friday evening, October 30th at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, and runs through November 15th. Heggie will be in Austin February 19-26, 2016 teaching and rehearsing Three Decembers and At the Statue of Venus at the University of Texas-Austin.