Award-Winning Composer Jake Heggie Workshops New Opera at SFCM
Singers and musicians also performed a run-through of "Intelligence" in front of an audience of SFCM students ahead of its premiere with the Houston Grand Opera.
By Mark Taylor
He has been called “arguably the world's most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer,” and he spent part of January at SFCM workshopping a new work.
Jake Heggie came to campus to workshop the brand new opera Intelligence, set to premiere with the Houston Grand Opera. Heggie is the artist behind nine full-length operas, including Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick, and Great Scott, and has also composed nearly 300 art songs, as well as chamber, choral, and orchestral works.
The workshop included Music Director of Houston Grand Opera Patrick Summers, choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, SFCM voice alumni, SFCM students, and a series of talented vocalists and musicians—including librettist Gene Scheer, represented by Opus 3, the management company acquired by SFCM in 2020.
The workshop concluded with a run-through inside the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall on January 19, open to all SFCM students, “I am consistently wowed by the facilities at SFCM! Everything a young or professional musician needs is right there: from the spectacular concert halls to the recording studio, classrooms, ensemble and rehearsal spaces,” Heggie said of his time on campus. “Every space seems to vibrate with possibility and the permission to create. That's how great music is made.”
The new opera, Intelligence, explores the riveting and little-known story of two women spies in the South during the Civil War: Elizabeth Van Lew, a privileged white woman, and Mary Jane Bowser, a Black woman born into slavery who became a hidden spy in Jefferson Davis’ Confederate White House. “I think it’s a really inspiring story and pushes boundaries in telling diverse stories but not forgetting the past,” said SFCM voice student Dyanna Bohorques, one of the students watching the workshop for Winter Term.
SFCM President David Stull called Heggie’s visit to SFCM a thrilling experience. “He is truly one of the most extraordinary artists of our time. To have someone so generous and remarkable in their work collaborating with our students is an honor, a pleasure, and squarely at the center of our mission here at the Conservatory,” Stull said.
Among the cast performers was SFCM alumna Esther Tonea (‘18). “Esther is an extraordinary young soprano and I've now collaborated with her on two of my operas. She has emerged as one of the most exciting young lyric sopranos of our time,” Heggie continued. “It has been a great pleasure and thrill to work with many SFCM alumni through the years. I can't even count the times I've been lucky enough to cross paths with them out in the professional world.”
From working on the opera, to life lessons for emerging musicians at the Conservatory, Heggie hopes students learn how “deeply collaborative” it is to create an opera. “It isn't just one person dictating how it goes, we find it together as a team,” he said. As far as advice is concerned, Heggie's words of wisdom are preparation, hard work, and discipline: “If one isn't fully prepared on that level, we can't focus on creating and really finding the essence of the opera. But when everyone has done all the hard work, then we can create and the sky's the limit!”
As for students like Dyanna Bohorques, who watched the workshop from beginning to end, “It has been really inspiring, they answered all our questions directly about the process and the industry,” she said “Creatives who take the time to spend with up-and-coming artists are really something special.”