Metro Weekly

Operatic Intent

UrbanArias finds “winning combination” to attract new opera fans

Pulley-and-Hall-Ft-Worth
“I always thought opera was kind of silly when I was growing up,” concedes Jake Heggie, adding with a laugh, “and sometimes I still do.”

Heggie was weaned on American musicals, and grew up writing songs in that style. But years of work with some bold-named opera stars, including Frederica von Stade and Renee Fleming, eventually led to a commission from the San Francisco Opera, where he once worked in the marketing department. And more than 15 years since that first commission, composing Terrence McNally’s adaptation of the film Dead Man Walking, Heggie has been committed to the genre and putting his own musical theater-esque stamp on it.

“We have to make a strong case to make this traditionally European form our own,” he says. “Looking at all the different permutations of stories and combinations of singers and instruments throughout history, not to mention today, shows you just how versatile this art form is.”

Heggie has a kindred spirit in UrbanArias, which Robert Wood founded more than four years ago as a way to make opera more accessible and affordable to new audiences. This nationally recognized, Arlington-based company opens its new season with a production of Three Decembers, a 90-minute opera Heggie developed with librettist Gene Scheer, adapted from a script by Terrence McNally. The intimate piece explores the dysfunctional relationship between a Broadway diva and her two children over the course of three decades, charting the impact of AIDS and the rise of gay rights. “It’s very important that people today remember what that period was like,” Heggie says, “because a lot of young people don’t know what it was like or what was going on.”

Heggie, who lives in San Francisco with his actor husband Curt Branom and is currently in the final stages of writing another new opera with McNally, is thrilled by the efforts of UrbanArias and other organizations for pushing opera in new directions.

“It’s exciting to see a younger generation, a generation behind me who are getting opportunities to write operas in a way that I never could have imagined,” he says.

Three Decembers opens Saturday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m., with additional performances Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 4, at 8 p.m. Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd. Arlington. Tickets are $28. Call 703-875-1100 or visit urbanarias.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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