Jake Heggie

Born 1961

Jake Heggie



Jake Heggie is an American composer best known for his operas. Through his collaborations with the prominent writers Terrence McNally and Gene Scheer, he has produced many consistently outstanding masterpieces, such as Moby Dick, Dead Man Walking and Great Scott. Besides his penchant for opera, he has also composed many art songs, concertos, chamber music, choral music and symphonic music.

Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, Heggie learned piano from a young age and displayed precocious talent growing up. He studied in Paris and at the the University of California, Los Angeles. Jake Heggie is influenced by Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber, all of whom share the experience of composing for the theatre and/or the opera house. In his youth, he favoured musicals over opera but it was hearing Britten’s opera Peter Grimes that changed his mind. His music is also influenced by the tonal language of Debussy, Ravel, Wagner and Verdi.

His first opera Dead Man Walking proved so popular that it ran for two extra performances immediately following its San Francisco premiere. Its orchestral score is written for 75 instruments, intended for a 3,000-seat opera house, with libretto by Terrence McNally.  Other notable performances of Dead Man Walking have included those by Opera Pacific, staged in Southern California in 2004 and by the small-scale opera company Opera Parallele, for which the orchestral part was reduced for a 31-piece orchestra. Jake Heggie likes to work at both the larger opera houses and with small-scale dynamic opera companies and is extremely impressed by the Opera Parallele, as he told the LA Times: "They are part of an amazing wave that's sweeping across the country right now — opera at this level is so vital." Dead Man Walking as also produced at the New York City Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Dresden State Opera and the State Opera of South Australia, to name a few.

Heggie’s opera Moby Dick was premiered at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas. It draws on Melville’s great American novel about the sinking of a ship when it comes in contact with a great white whale. The libretto is by Gene Scheer. Heggie’s ability to convey turmoil, sadness and the silence on the crew’s demise is astounding, which the New York Times referred to as “a fundamentally sound theatrical instinct.”

Many of Jake Heggie’s songs have been recorded by PENTATONE, with sopranos Talise Trevigne, Regina Zona , Lisa Delan and Angel Blue, mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato,  tenor Stephen Costello and baritone Nathan Gunn.

Houston Grand Opera commissioned  Pieces of 9/11 in 2011 for soprano, baritone, girl soprano, with flute, guitar, violin and cello. The texts, written by Terrence Scheer, are based on interviews with Houston natives regarding their experiences in the September 11 attacks. The work  was premiered exactly 10 years after the historic event, at Houston City Hall.

His Soliloquy for flute and piano is an instrumental setting of Heggie’s song Beyond from his Pieces of 9/11. It was first performed in Santa Barbara on 10 May 2012 with Adrian Spence on flute and Warren Jones at the piano.

From ‘The Book of Nightmares’ (2013) a trio for soprano, cello and piano is set to the poetry of Galway Kinnell. It was dedicated to the soprano Lisa Delan and premiered in May 2013. The work consists of four songs: You Scream, In a Restaurant, My Father’s Eyes and Back You Go. It was first performed in May 2014 at the Noe Valley Chamber Music 20th Anniversry Gala Concert in San Francisco. The same year as its premiere, Pentatone released a recording of From ‘The Book of Nightmares’ with Lisa Delan joined by the cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Kristin Pankonin.

Heggie’s Ahab Symphony (2013) is scored for full symphony orchestra, tenor solo and SATB choir. It contains texts by Herman Melville, from his crowning achievement Moby Dick and by W.H. Auden, from his poem Herman Melville. The first performance took place on 24 April 2013 with the University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra and Grand Chorus and the tenor Richard Croft.