Page 96 - Classical Singer magazine 2019 Fall University Issue
P. 96

A Composer Improvises
“If you really want an effective theatre piece, you have to work with the singer. It’s not dumbing your piece down; it’s smartening it up.”
Growing up in Ohio, Broadway musicals and  lm scores were paramount. Heggie was a serious  lm bu  early on, even saving up
to buy his own projector. Later,
he received an overwhelming transmission of vocal wisdom while at UCLA in the 1980s, turning pages at the recitals of some of the greatest singers of the era: Leontyne Price, Renata Scotto, Tatiana Troyanos,
and Montserrat Caballé. Backstage Heggie spent time with them and their pianists.
Among the people Heggie
got to know between page turns were composer Ned Rorem and collaborative pianist Roger Vignoles, both of whom asked Heggie to send them some of his songs, which he did. Both men gave him the same feedback: he was being too reverent with the text. They couldn’t tell how he felt about it as a composer.
in a kind way. I always worry when people say, ‘Oh, you’re so nice!’”
His personability is not automatic. He says he’s worked at it. Heggie describes himself as shy. “A true introvert who walks around with crushing self-doubt,” he laughs, “like everybody.”
As we settle into the opera’s press room, Heggie looks well rested and says he is glad that we waited to have our interview this week. He
has a new work in rehearsal. If I
W ere You is a commission for the San Francisco Merola Opera Program and a collaboration with his longtime librettist Gene Scheer. And the
OPERA America conference just wrapped up in San Francisco, making for a busy week.
Heggie spoke on the conference’s opening panel, stressing two main points. First, the need to bring music education back into the schools and, second, that the opera world must cultivate and make the most of its dynamic celebrities. “The situation we’re in, I don’t propose to have the answers—but we do need to develop those star singers because opera is about singing,” he says. “We need some pop culture savvy.”
Heggie fell in love with singing as a child, listening to Julie Andrews.
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96 Classical Singer | September/October 2019
Così fan tutte, 2019 Photo: Alissa Roseborough ‘16

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