Jake Heggie
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Q&A: Jake Heggie

An interview with the renowned opera composer, whose works will be performed at Texas Christian University's Festival of American Song.

published Sunday, September 30, 2018

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Jake Heggie

Fort Worth — The music of composer and pianist Jake Heggie is being featured at Texas Christian University’s School of Music fifth annual Festival of American Song on Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, 2018 at The PepsiCo Recital Hall and Ed Landreth Hall. Heggie will be in attendance and will give two master classes, specializing in opera and vocal music.

Jake Heggie is at the top of the list of composers of our era. He is familiar to audiences in the Metroplex for his operas Moby-Dick and Great Scott, both of which premiered at The Dallas Opera, as well as productions of his operas Dead Man Walking and Three Decembers at the Fort Worth Opera.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, the TCU Festival will present a concert featuring one of Heggie’s song cycles, Farewell, Auschwitz. It will be performed by the TCU Artist Diploma postgraduate students who are also members of the Fort Worth Opera Young Artists program.

Farewell, Auschwitz is an unusual work. The libretto, adapted by librettist Gene Scheer, was drawn from a collection of poetry and made up lyrics to popular songs of the era so that that the prisoners could sing them. The clever words were written by Krystyna Żywulska, a Polish Jew in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The other public performance will be at 7 p.m. Monday, also in PepsiCo Recital Hall. This will be a recital of songs selected from his vast catalog and will be performed by TCU students and faculty. Tickets are required for both of these concerts.

There are two events that are free to the public. One is a master class with Heggie working with TCU Voice Department Students; 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1 in Ed Landreth Hall. The other is a Q-and-A session with Heggie moderated by TCU alum, Shields-Collins Bray, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oc. 2 in PepsiCo Recital Hall. It will also be live streamed on TCU School of Music Website.

Heggie got his start in the most unlikely of ways. Like most composers, he had a series of day jobs to pay the rent. When he was working at one of them, in the PR department of the San Francisco Opera, the General Director at the time, Lotfi Mansouri, called Heggie into his office.

"I really thought it was going to be about a new press release, so I brought my notepad," Heggie told the Nob Hill Gazette in a 2013 interview.

However, much to his astonishment, Mansouri offered him a commission to write a new opera for the 2000 season. He had never written one before, but the result was Dead Men Walking, which was a huge success and launched his international career as one of the leading opera composers of our generation. Sometimes, lightning strikes.

We chatted with Heggie about his work and the performances at the Festival of American Song.


TheaterJones: Tell me about Farewell, Auschwitz.

Jake Heggie: The poet, Krystyna Żywulska, survived by making up these lyrics to tunes everyone knew. That is why they sound familiar. I tried to emulate the pop sounds of the time, like the Andrews Sisters and Kurt Weill.


You have done something like this before? In your opera Great Scott, which revolves around a newly discovered opera from the Bellini era, you wrote some very convincing Bellini-esque music.

This also is evocative of its time.


How many songs will we hear?

Oh, my gosh. I haven’t even counted them, but it is a lot; maybe 18 or more. It is hard to keep track. Well, you know how it is since you are also a composer. When you are immersed in a new project, it completely occupies your thought process so that when you do look up you wonder what day it is [laughs].


Will you work with the singers beforehand?

In the actual recital, I will be setting the songs up before they are heard in the performance. I will tell the story of how they came to be and something of the performance history. I am also doing a Master Class with the singers and pianists beforehand. This will help prepare all involved for the recital that evening.


Who will be at the piano?

Buddy [Shields-Collins Bray] will be playing, as will some of the coaches on the TCU staff.


What is your new project?

I am working on my eighth opera. Can you believe it? It is based on the Faust legend. You don’t have to look far to see people selling their soul these days.


I have heard you say, “I have done this before and I can do it again.”

Then suddenly, there are hundreds of pages of music in front of you.


You are part of the great return to tonality, which is most welcome.

Well, I just wrote what I wanted to write. I advise young composers to write what is natural to them and not try to copy some style that is all the rage. You can always tell when a composer is writing in a style that doesn’t quite fit. I once asked Carlisle Floyd, who wrote Susannah in the 1950s, which was right in the height of the avant-garde, what it was like [to go against the trend].  He said, “It was very lonely.”





Farewell, Auschwitz

Performed by TCU Artist Diploma/Fort Worth Opera Young Artists

Sunday, September 30 – 7:00pm

PepsiCo Recital Hall

Tickets: $25; Free with TCU ID


Master Class with TCU Voice Department Students

Monday, October 1 – 3:00pm

Ed Landreth Hall

This event is free and open to the public.


Recital of Selected Songs of Jake Heggie

Performed by TCU Students and Faculty

Monday, October 1 – 7:00pm

PepsiCo Recital Hall

Tickets: $25; Free with TCU ID


Webcast Q&A with Jake Heggie

Moderated by TCU alum, Shields-Collins Bray

Tuesday, October 2 – 11:00am

PepsiCo Recital Hall

Live streamed on TCU School of Music Website Thanks For Reading

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Q&A: Jake Heggie
An interview with the renowned opera composer, whose works will be performed at Texas Christian University's Festival of American Song.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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