SFOpera - Jake Heggie debuts new work with Merola Opera Program

Jake Heggie debuts new work with Merola Opera Program

He’s a local talent renowned for bringing original work to San Francisco’s stages — and now he’s back with a brand-new work, tailor-made for the Merola Opera Program.

On August 1, Jake Heggie is set to debut his latest work, If I Were You, at the historic Herbst Theatre. The opera, based on a novel by Julien Green, tells the story of a struggling young writer who strikes a Faustian bargain. A shape-shifting devil grants him the power to inhabit other people’s bodies, but each time he takes a new body, he condemns that person’s soul to the underworld.

Having recently adapted the classic holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life into opera, Heggie saw his collaboration with Merola as an opportunity to indulge in “something that has a dark poetry to it.”

“I try to pick stories that are vastly different, to push myself into trying new things,” he recently told the Merola Opera Program. And yet, despite all the differences in his work, Heggie says all his operas share a common theme: the “quest for identity.”

It’s a struggle Heggie himself has dealt with. In 1988, his career as a pianist hit a snag when a neurological disorder limited movement in his right hand. He had to reinvent himself, finding a job in San Francisco Opera’s public relations department, where he took a position once occupied by the novelist Armistead Maupin.

Plunged deep in the daily workings of the opera house, Heggie started writing songs for the stars he saw onstage. His talent did not go unnoticed: Lotfi Mansouri, San Francisco Opera’s general director at the time, ultimately commissioned him to write a new opera. It would be his first — Dead Man Walking, with lyrics from Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally.

You can catch his latest work, If I Were You, now through August 6!