Nothing breeds success like success. Following the praise for Jake Heggie's opera Moby-Dick, the Dallas Opera has commissioned him to write another one for them to premiere in 2015. The new opera, Great Scott, will have a libretto by Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, a Texas native.
"We began talking with Jake about the next possible collaboration during the tremendously successful opening of Moby-Dick," says Dallas Opera Artistic Director Jonathan Pell.
Heggie's libretto partner for Moby-Dick was Gene Scheer, but Heggie has worked with McNally before, on Dead Man Walking and Three Decembers. The latter work will be seen at the Fort Worth Opera Festival this May (Fort Worth Opera did Dead Man Walking in 2009).
McNally is a known opera aficianado. His play Master Class, about Maria Callas, has enchanted opera fans for many years. He also wrote the opera-themed The Lisbon Traviata. His other plays include Love! Valour! Compassion! and the controversial Corpus Christi, and he has written librettos for the musicals Kiss of the Spiderwoman, The Full Monty, Ragtime and Catch Me If You Can, among others.
Great Scott is based on one of his original stories.
In a phone interview, Heggie said that two commissions in a row for the same company is unusual, but it has happened before.
"I did two in a row for Houston [Grand Opera: The End of the Affair and Three Decembers]. But what is wonderful here is that an opera company loved what I did so much, that they started this process right then and there. Besides, I had such a good experience with Moby-Dick. There was never a question of 'can we do this or that,' only a question of 'how can we figure out a way to do it'?"
Great Scott is an opera within an opera. In the Dallas Opera news release, Terrence McNally explains the plot:
"What happens when a famous American singer who has been the subject of a 60 Minutes profile goes back home to star in a production of a forgotten masterpiece of the bel canto repertory? Arden Scott belongs to the world now but she is a hometown girl at heart. She has never looked back until now. Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei (Daughter of Pompeii) is her occasion to do so. Rosa is a grand opera complete with two mad scenes, an erupting volcano, a children's chorus and corps de ballet. Every conceivable disaster awaits them. Will mere human resources be equal to the opera's inhuman demands? The rehearsals and performance of Rosa will mirror the upheaval of Arden Scott's own life."
An erupting volcano? This sounds like a backstage opera-mania comedy à la Lend Me a Tenor. But it is not identified as such. According to McNally, it will "…challenge, inspire and delight us all."
Heggie agrees. "We're not calling it a comic opera, but there are going to be humorous parts," he says. "We're just calling it an 'opera' and we will let people figure out if it is a comedy or not. But, it's by Terrence McNally. Hellooo."
The leading role of the beleaguered singer will be the outstanding mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who recently had a big success in Houston with Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking. She last appeared in the Metroplex under the auspices of the Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Hall. She was so impressive that she made my top ten events for 2011.
No other casting has been announced. A young, relatively unknown but rising star conductor, Evan Rogister, will be on the podium.
"We look forward to hearing Joyce DiDonato in the exceptional acoustic of the Winspear Opera House," says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny, "and experiencing the magic she creates onstage in her performances."
The opera will have its world premiere on Oct. 30, 2015. According to TDO, it will be the Linda and Mitch Hart Season Opening Night Performance at the Dallas Opera, with additional performances of Great Scott scheduled to take place on the Shannon and Ted Skokos Stage in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House on November 1, 4, 7 and 15, 2015.
Everything is named for someone or something these days.
◊ In other Heggie news, at the University of North Texas, where he is in residence, the UNT Opera will present scenes from Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, Three Decembers and The End of the Affair on April 21 at the school's Murchison Performing Arts Center.
Update: Joyce DiDonato has posted a video about the project on the Dallas Opera YouTube Channel. Here it is: