Houston Grand Opera To Preview IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE In NY

By: Sep. 29, 2016

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) will offer New Yorkers a preview performance of excerpts from a new opera based on the classic story and Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life on Sunday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Guggenheim Museum, as part of the museum's Works & Process program. The evening will include a discussion with the composer/librettist team of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, moderated by HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. Maestro Summers will conduct the opera's world premiere in Houston from December 2 through 17, and Leonard Foglia will direct this co-commission and coproduction of HGO, San Francisco Opera, and The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. The opera is by permission of Paramount Licensing, Inc.

With the cast rehearsing in Houston, the November 6 event will feature a group of artists who will perform the roles for that evening only. They are: sopranos Ailyn Pérez and Karen Slack, mezzosoprano Amanda Tarver, tenors Jonathan Blalock and Matthew Hernandez, and baritone Jarrett Ott.

The 1946 Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life has become synonymous with the American holiday spirit. The story of a man at the precipice who is given an opportunity by an angel to see what the world would have been like if he had never lived was loosely based on Philip Van Doren Stern's 1943 story The Greatest Gift. In a departure from the film, the action in the opera takes place from the perspective of the angel, named Clara, on a set featuring mirrored doors that represent portals in time and space.

It's a Wonderful Life will be the Heggie/Scheer team's third commission from HGO; in 2008 the company premiered Last Acts (Three Decembers) and the song cycle Pieces of 9/11 followed in 2011. This will be the sixth Heggie world premiere conducted by HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. At HGO he led The End of the Affair (2004) and Three Decembers (2008); at San Francisco Opera he led Dead Man Walking (2000); at San Francisco Opera he conducted Moby-Dick (2010); and at the Dallas Opera he led Great Scott (2015). Jake Heggie is the American composer of the operas Dead Man Walking (libretto by Terrence McNally), Moby-Dick (libretto by Gene Scheer), Great Scott (McNally), Three Decembers (Scheer), To Hell and Back (Scheer), Out of Darkness (Scheer), At the Statue of Venus (McNally) and The Radio Hour: A Choral Opera (Scheer). He has also composed more than 250 songs, as well as chamber, choral and orchestral works. The operas-most created with writers Terrence McNally and Gene Scheer-have been produced on five continents. Dead Man Walking will receive its 50th international production this season, at the Kennedy Center.in Washington, D.C. A Guggenheim Fellow, Heggie has served as a mentor for the Washington National Opera's American Opera Initiative and is a frequent guest artist at universities, conservatories and festivals throughout the U.S.and Canada. The composer was recently awarded the Eddie Medora King prize from the UT Austin Butler School of Music.

In addition to his collaborations with Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer has worked as librettist with Jennifer Higdon on Cold Mountain (2015), Joby Talbot on Everest (2015), and Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy (2005) and Thérèse Raquin (2001). Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis's "It Never Goes Away," featured in Mr. Marsalis's work Congo Square. With the composer Steven Stucky, Mr. Scheer wrote the oratorio August 4, 1964, for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; the piece was nominated for a Grammy and performed at Carnegie Hall. A composer in his own right, Mr. Scheer has written a number of songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn. The distinguished documentary filmmaker Ken Burns prominently featured Mr. Scheer's song "American Anthem" (as sung by Norah Jones) in his Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary for PBS titled The War.

Patrick Summers was named artistic and music director of HGO in 2011 after having served as the company's music director since 1998. He has conducted more than 60 operas at HGO, including the company's first-ever cycle of Wagner's Ring; the world premieres of André Previn's Brief Encounter, Christopher Theofanidis's The Refuge, Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair and Three Decembers, Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree and Prince of Players, and Tod Machover's Resurrection; and the American premiere of Weinberg's Holocaust opera The Passenger, both at HGO and on tour to the Lincoln Center Festival. He has nurtured the careers of such artists as Christine Goerke, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Ana María Martínez, Ryan McKinny, TaMara Wilson, Albina Shagimuratova, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Norman Reinhardt, Jamie Barton, and Dimitri Pittas. Maestro Summers is principal guest conductor for San Francisco Opera (SFO), where he was honored last fall with the San Francisco Opera Medal. His work with SFO includes collaborating with André Previn on the 1998 world premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire and conducting several of the performances, and conducting Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, which was recorded and telecast on PBS's Great Performances. During the summer of 2016, he was a conductor at the David Gockley Farewell Gala at San Francisco Opera. This season at HGO he conducts It's a Wonderful Life, the Verdi Requiem, and Götterdämmerung, the final opera in the company's mounting of Wagner's Ring cycle.

About Houston Grand Opera

Since its inception in 1955, Houston Grand Opera has grown from a small regional organization into an internationally renowned opera company. HGO enjoys a reputation for commissioning and producing new works, including 61 world premieres and seven American premieres since 1973. In addition to producing and performing world-class opera, HGO contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO has toured extensively, including trips to Europe and Asia, and has won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and two Emmy awards-the only opera company to have won all three honors. Through HGOco, Houston Grand Opera creates opportunities for Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to observe, participate in, and create art. The NEXUS Initiative is HGO's multi-year ticket underwriting program that allows Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy worldclass opera without the barrier of price. Since 2007 NEXUS has enabled more than 225,000 Houstonians to experience first-quality opera through discounted single tickets and subscriptions, subsidized student performances, and free productions.


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