I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am grateful for my family and friends and for living in a city with so much to do. In the midst of the rush to get that turkey cooked (sage butter) and stuffed (cornbread chorizo), I also attended some impressive performances. Before we plunge into holiday concert season, here are a few observations from last week:
On Tuesday, I was in an audience of opera lovers, patrons, critics and teachers in Memorial Hall for a reading of excerpts from Jake Heggie’s latest opera, “Great Scott.” He and the creative team– including librettist Terrence McNally, director Jack O’Brien and conductor Evan Rogister (shown in this photo)– were in town for a workshop through Opera Fusion:New Works. The excellent singers assembled for the reading were all CCM students and alumni. A fine pianist named Grant Loehnig came down from “Porgy and Bess” at Chicago Lyric Opera to collaborate at the piano.
“Twenty years ago I had no idea I was going to write an opera” said Heggie- whose canon includes Moby-Dick, Dead Man Walking and The End of the Affair. “Unlike Broadway, opera is shot out of a cannon.” (You can read my interview with him from earlier in the week by clicking here.)
For “Great Scott,” we heard the overture– a rousing pastiche of Bellini-like tunes and football fight songs- and bits of Act I. Like Heggie’s other works, this opera is engagingly tuneful and tonal. He has a definite gift for writing for the voice. There was a wonderful Act I finale sextet, à la Rossini, and a stunning duet for teacher and student- Arden Scott (Renée Rapier) and Winnie Flato (Leah Marie de Gruyl).
As the plot’s central figure Scott, Rapier soared magnificently through an imitation of Italian bel canto… The cast included a funny Russian diva (performed by Emily Albrink) who wants to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
We didn’t see enough to understand exactly how the comedy will unfold. Now the team will go home and fine-tune. “After tonight, I’m going to go home and rewrite everything,” quipped Heggie, who said they had changed some things already during the week.
Later, in a Q&A, Heggie said that he started composing as a teen, and Julie Andrews was his “first goddess.” Perhaps most revealingly, he noted that “every opera, to me, is my musical. I write for operatic voices but it’s all music theater.”
When “Great Scott” opens next fall at Houston Grand Opera, it will have been four years from conception to opening night.