New Jake Heggie opera "Out of Darkness" promises to light up the stage

Seattle Gay News
Publication Date

May 22

Jake Heggie, composer

by Alice Bloch 

How often do you find an opportunity to attend a world premiere of a full-length opera commissioned by a Seattle arts organization, featuring Gay characters, and written by the most popular opera composer of today, who happens to be Gay? On May 22 you'll have just that opportunity, when Music of Remembrance (MOR) presents Out of Darkness: An Opera of Survival, by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer.

The two acts of Out of Darkness are based on the true stories of two Holocaust survivors: the Polish dissident Krystyna Zywulska (1914-1993) and the Gay German Jew Gad Beck (1923-2012), whose lover Manfred Lewin perished at Auschwitz . Zywulska hid her Jewish identity and was incarcerated as a political prisoner, also at Auschwitz. She lifted the spirits of her fellow prisoners by writing poems and song lyrics, which were passed around the camp and became anthems of resistance.

The opera portrays Zywulska and Beck in later life, with flashbacks to the Holocaust. Both have survived but are haunted by their younger selves, their losses, and the compromises they have made. The result, says MOR artistic director Mina Miller, is 'a compelling story of love, courage, and remembrance.'

In a phone interview, Heggie put forth the basic questions of this opera: 'What will you leave for the future? What will you give to future generations?'

Originally, Miller and Heggie envisioned that Out of Darkness would be a back-to-back performance of three song cycles (two about Zywulska and one about Beck and Lewin) commissioned by MOR and written by Heggie and Scheer over the past decade. Scheer's reaction, according to Miller, was 'No! That's not an opera. We need to weave this material into a cohesive whole, a gripping evening of musical theater.' Heggie immediately agreed. 'I'm a pragmatic composer,' he says. 'I like big stories, stories that can be programmed.'

Of Heggie, Miller says, 'His music speaks to the heart. He knows how to capture characters in all their complexity. His works leave you forever changed, whether you consider yourself an opera lover or not.'

Heggie has words of equally high praise for Miller and describes their ten-year collaboration as 'one of the best experiences of my life. As an artist, you yearn to write things that have meaning, depth, resonance. It all comes back to Mina and her vision.'

For the premiere, Miller has assembled an excellent cast, several of whom are familiar to MOR audiences: sopranos Caitlin Lynch and Ava Pine, mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, and baritone Robert Orth. Baritone Michael Mayes, who will sing the role of Manfred, has garnered rave reviews as the title character of Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking. Erich Parce is the stage director, and Joseph Mechavich will conduct the five singers and six instrumentalists.

Out of Darkness: An Opera of Survival will premiere at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall (3rd Ave. & Union St.) on Sunday, May 22 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $45 general admission; $30 for under 30. In addition to the concert Music of Remembrance will host a gala dinner in honor of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer immediately following the concert at the Norcliffe Founders Room. Tickets for the dinner are $250, of which a portion of the ticket price represents a tax-deductible contribution to Music of Remembrance. For more information, visit

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