“No make-up”!… Jake Heggie

Jake Heggie the American composer of the famous contemporary operas such as Moby-Dick and Dead Man Walking. He has also composed more than 250 songs, as well as concerti, chamber music, choral and orchestral works. His operas — most of them created with the distinguished writers Terrence McNally and Gene Scheer — have been produced internationally on five continents. Since its San Francisco premiere in 2000, Dead Man Walking has received more than 200 international performances. Moby-Dick will be telecast on Great Performances Nov 1, 2013 and is set to receive its East Coast premiere in February 2014 by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Upcoming projects include Great Scott (libretto and story by McNally) for The Dallas Opera’s 2015/16 season; plus works commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Pacific Chorale, Pittsburgh Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. His latest recording, here/after (PentaTone Classics) features more than two hours of recent songs and chamber music. More information on his official website.
Which is the main feature of your  personality?

Your worst flaw?

Self  doubt.
Which is your star sign?

Aries  (Leo ascending).
Are you superstitious?

Who and why?

Every time I hear a great singer in performance, I marvel at the ability to communicate and connect in this miraculous way. I envy them that great gift: riding a crest of air and sending that sound – that vibration – straight to the hearts of others. Truly. It is miraculous. And it gets me every single time.
Are you a spiritual person? 

Yes – but not at all religious. Organized religion  is not my friend.
Have  you ever envied someone?

Oh  yes!
What did you dream to become as an adult when you were a  child?

A  composer and pianist.

Did  your family influence your choices?
They  were incredibly supportive (I was lucky).
Which is your most cherished memory? 

Feeling  completely identified and loved.
The moment you felt the  proudest?
My  wedding to Curt Branom in 2008.
The greatest  disappointment?

Never  got to say goodbye to my best friend from childhood – he died at age 34  from AIDS and we had lost touch.
What’s missing in your life  today?

Too  many friends and family who passed away too young and too soon – all of  whom I wish I could embrace and share with.
What are you afraid of the most?

Hurting  somebody I love.
Can you tell us which is this dream you’re living?

The dream that I’m living? Married to the person I love with a solid, wonderful home in my favorite city, surrounded by great friends, good health — and on top of all this, my job is to collborate with writers to compose music for great singers at magnficent opera houses. Now THAT is a dream come true! I live in gratitude every single day.
Do you have a recurrent  dream?
Yes  – and I’m astonished every time when I wake up that I’m lucky enough to be  living it.
Can you tell us which is this dream you’re living?

The dream that I’m living? Married to the person I love with a solid, wonderful home in my favorite city, surrounded by great friends, good health — and on top of all this, my job is to collborate with writers to compose music for great singers at magnficent opera houses. Now THAT is a dream come true! I live in gratitude every single day.
How important is money to  you?
It  matters a lot in our world because it represents great freedom (alas) –  but it’s not the most important thing because it can all disappear in a  flash.
Which is the item you like spending  money on the most?
Celebrations  with friends!
Do  you collect anything?

Which are your favorite  readings?

I  love a good story – so novels and historical  fiction.
Which is your favorite  perfume?
NONE!  It makes me sneeze!
Favorite  city?

San  Francisco.
Favorite  color?

Greenish  Blue (is that Teal?).
Favorite  flower?

A  tie between lilacs, iris and roses!

Your favourite singer(s)?

Whoever  I’m working with or writing for!
Which is the first record you ever  bought? 

Arthur  Rubinstein playing Beethoven sonatas.
The film you love the  most?

It  always seems to come back to MOONSTRUCK.
Your favorite season and  why?

Summer  – the days are long and it has always meant total freedom to me. I can  wear shorts and sandals – feel the air – and think about  vacation!
How is your relationship with  technology and which is the electronic gadget you can’t do  without?

I  keep getting nudged into the 21st century thanks to very close techno  friends – so now I can’t seem to do without my iPhone! But I still compose  at the piano and write everything out by hand – EVERYTHING (including full  orchestra scores). Then I send it to my copyist who puts it into the  computer.
How’s your attitude towards TV ?

Not  great. I watch two things regularly: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and  the PBS News Hour.
How is your relationship with  politics?

Extremely  tense. I am privately political – and deeply frustrated with the  hypocrisy, stupidity, shallowness and fear that is ingrained in the  political system — mostly thanks to the incessantly speculative and  destructive 24/7 news coverage on television.
Do you have causes that are very  important for you?

YES.  Health and education for children – especially getting kids connected to  the performing arts early on: getting them singing, clapping, acting,  moving, connecting and thinking abstractly through music and  movement.
Day or  night?
Which is the situation you consider  the most relaxing?

Caught  up with commissions and walking on a beach with Curt.
Tell us your ideal  day.
Wake  up around 8am after nine hours of sleep (well, you said ideal, right?),  have an easy couple of hours at home, then to the gym for an hour, then to  my studio to compose until about 5pm, then walk the dog, dinner with  friends, a movie or nothing at all .. then asleep by 11pm.  Heaven.
Which  is your hideaway?

My composing studio.
What’s  the soundtrack to your everyday life?

The  sounds of life around me – people walking & talking, the wind in the  trees, dogs barking, the ocean in the distance…
What do you miss the most when  you’re away from home?
The  holiday or the trip you’d like to take?

Would love to explore Asia one  day.
What or who makes you feel  embarrassed?

When a joke of mine  falls flat … which happens all the time.
 How would you  define your relation with food ?
 A  little too good. A special weakness for dark  chocolate.
 Mediterranean diet, mocrobiotics or  fast food?
 Lots  of fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes fish, sometimes poultry, rarely  red meat.
 Your favourite dish?
Pasta de la Casa at  North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco.
 Red or white wine?
 Which is the place where cooking is  the worst ever?
Fast  food restaurants … just the smell turns my  stomach.
Was music a  vocation?
What would you want someone who  doesn’t know you to listen to?
Opening  chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Why Bach and not one of your compositions?
I suggested Bach’s St. Matthew Passion because I believe it is the greatest music ever written. It jumps to life every time and is filled with an aching humanity, mystery, and countless surprises. It makes us better as people to fathom it. It gives us hope about the possibility that lies within us and in front of us. People have achieved great things and will continue to strive to do so.Of my own work? I think for opera it would have to be Moby-Dick, and for song it would have to be my cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire. They represent big shifts and steps forward in my own journey … and I think they are strong with a lot to say.
How  do you follow the evolution of your career?
I  stay focused on the work at hand, and trust the friendly ears of  colleagues and loved ones who keep me up to date.
If  you were granted the chance to chose a subject for an opera, which one  would it be?
Oh but I have been many times! Dead Man Walking,  Moby-Dick, and two that are about to be announced. I have a list of ideas  I’d like to explore – but they have to remain secret. One doesn’t want to  discuss unborn children.
What does it mean to be an opera composer in the 21th  century?
It is a rare, special and precarious privilege,  because opera is not the popular art form it once was. It is a miracle  every time it happens. Wondrous to have the opportunity to pursue  meaningful work in the opera house – to work with great colleagues as a  team to build something resonant and hopefully profound, moving, fun,  entertaining and inspiring. I realize how rare it is that a composer’s  work gets performed and embraced in his or her own lifetime, and I am well  aware that it can all disappear in a flash — so I try to stay present,  focused and grateful every day.
Inspiration-wise, what comes first, the score or the  lyrics?
The story. If that is right, then the words and  music can emerge. In my case, I need to have the libretto in pretty good  shape before I start to write – but the story is what initially inspires  music.
Having composed  Dead Man Walking, which is your attitude towards death penalty?
I am opposed to the death penalty. Once a murderer is convicted and incarcerated so that the public is safe from harm, what additional good does it provide to the public to execute that person? I feel deeply that it brings us all down and ultimately solves nothing. We also eliminate the possibility for that person to work and perhaps provide some good to the world.
How does it make you feel that in some states of the USA death penalty is still legal?
It makes me feel that there is still a great deal of work to do to raise a level of awareness about this issue. I believe most people think of it only in the abstract and don’t take the time to really reflect on it. The death penalty is so randomly and unequally applied, and so many mistakes are made in the legal system. Innocent people have spent decades on death row, and some have been wrongly executed. There is no perfect system, and execution cannot be undone.
Have you moulded your operas on the vocal features of the  singers who were to sing them?
Absolutely! I rite the role – but I dress it on the  singer.
Can composing for a specific performer represent a limit  someway, as time passes? Have you ever amended a role for different  singers?
It is not limiting as long as I write the role —  and if the role is well written, it’s amazing how other singers will  appear who are right for it. — I have definitely offered alternate  versions of songs or roles for certain singers.
Which is the opera from the present or the past you wish you  had composed?
Peter Grimes, followed closely by Cosi fan  tutte.
How  would you defining your composition style?
Lyrical  and dramatic.
What would you like to be  remembered for?
My  heart.