San Francisco Opera Presents West Coast Premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life, November 17–December 9

Release date: 10/26/2018    


Co-Commissioned Opera is Based on Frank Capra's Classic Film and Director by Leonard Foglia

Patrick Summers Leads San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Cast Headed by William Burden, Golda Schultz, Andriana Chuchman and Rod Gilfry

ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE.pdf  Photos Available

San Francisco Opera presents the West Coast premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer in nine holiday-season performances from November 17 through December 9. The two-act work, a co-commission and co-production between San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera and the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, is based in part on Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life™ and The Greatest Gift, a story by Philip Van Doren Stern.

The story of It’s a Wonderful Life is familiar to fans of the eponymous film starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. On Christmas Eve, George Bailey is contemplating suicide until the angel Clarence helps George see the positive impact of his life on others, thereby restoring his will to live. Heggie and Scheer’s full-scale operatic retelling of this touching story of second chances and the importance of each human life premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 2016 with the Houston Chronicle observing, “While the 1946 movie was a work of naturalism, the opera looks and feels like a dream.” The composer, librettist and creative team have revised the work for the West Coast premiere at the War Memorial Opera House.

Heggie said: “It’s a Wonderful Life had a beautiful premiere in December 2016, but we were still learning about the piece, of course. We worked on it last year for Indiana University and made quite a few changes, expanding some arias, adding two very beautiful duets and I also wrote a new opening for the opera that starts with a joyful explosion. Our director, Leonard Foglia, and the design team have also revisited the production in some striking and startling ways. It’s all coming together for the San Francisco Opera production which is going to be a knockout and a real treat for the audience!”

The composer continued, “This story is universal and timeless and Frank Capra recognized that when he made the movie. The circumstances are familiar and the message eternal: ‘No one is a failure who has friends.’ It’s about how you measure contentment and happiness in this precarious world.”

The cast features tenor William Burden as George Bailey. Burden has earned praise for many portrayals on the War Memorial Opera House stage, including Laca in Janáček’s Jenůfa, Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Dan Hill in Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier and Peter in Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and returns in the role he created with “searing conviction” (Opera News) at the world premiere.

In her first San Francisco Opera engagement, South African soprano Golda Schultz performs the role of the angel Clara who helps George Bailey while attempting to earn her wings. The fast-rising artist recently made acclaimed debuts at the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera with the New York Times observing she “sang with clear, pure tone and conveyed a sparkling personality, with a ready sense of humor.” Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown sings Clara in the December 9 performance.

Baritone Rod Gilfry returns to the War Memorial Opera House stage to reprise the banker, Mr. Potter, which he created in 2016. Since 1995, Gilfry has appeared with San Francisco Opera in a diverse array of roles, including Stanley Kowalski in the 1998 world premiere of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Faust in Ferruccio Busoni’s Doktor Faust in 2004.

Recently named a “Woman to Watch” by Opera News, Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman makes her first appearance with San Francisco Opera as Mary Hatch, George’s steadfast wife. Tenor Keith Jameson and baritone Joshua Hopkins make Company debuts as Uncle Billy Bailey and Harry Bailey, respectively, and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook sings the role of Mother Bailey. Current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows soprano Sarah Cambidge, mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, tenor Amitai Pati and bass-baritone Christian Pursell portray the Angel Quartet. Additionally, the role of A Voice features the pre-recorded voice of actress Patti LuPone.

Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Summers, who has been on the podium for each of Heggie’s operatic world premieres, made his San Francisco Opera conducting debut in 1990 and has led 33 works with the Company. Chorus Director Ian Robertson prepares the San Francisco Opera Chorus.

The production is directed by Leonard Foglia and features the work of set designer Robert Brill, costume designer David C. Woolard, lighting designer Brian Nason, projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy and choreographer Keturah Stickann. It’s a Wonderful Life reunites Heggie and Scheer with Maestro Summers, Foglia, Brill, McCarthy and Stickann, the creative team behind the acclaimed production of Moby-Dick, which was unveiled at the Dallas Opera in 2010, mounted by San Francisco Opera in 2012 and shown nationwide on PBS Great Performances.

Award-winning composer and San Francisco resident Jake Heggie began his career as a composer at San Francisco Opera with Dead Man Walking in 2000. Set to a libretto by Terrence McNally, Dead Man Walking has been presented around the world by more than 60 companies. It’s a Wonderful Life is the fourth of Heggie’s operas to be presented by San Francisco Opera and the third of his collaborations with librettist Gene Scheer, which also includes Three Decembers (2008) and Moby-Dick (2012). The artistic team of Heggie and Scheer were commissioned by Merola Opera Program for If I Were You, which is scheduled to receive its world premiere in San Francisco during summer 2019.

Sung in English with English supertitles, the nine performances of It’s a Wonderful Life are scheduled for November 17 (7:30 p.m.), November 20 (7:30 p.m.), November 24 (2 p.m.), November 25 (2 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.), December 1 (7:30 p.m.), December 4 (7:30 p.m.), December 7 (7:30 p.m.) and December 9 (2 p.m.).


Saturday, November 24, 11:30–2 p.m.

In conjunction with the Thanksgiving weekend matinee performance of It’s a Wonderful Life on Saturday, November 24, San Francisco Opera hosts a Family Day celebration. Beginning at 11:30 a.m., the “Bedford Falls Makers Market” located in the War Memorial Courtyard (Franklin Street at Fulton Street) will be open to families and the general public. Inspired by the setting of It’s a Wonderful Life in the town of Bedford Falls, New York, this outdoor marketplace will offer food trucks, handmade crafts from local artists and other family activities. Tickets for children under 18 years of age for the November 24 matinee performance are available at 50% off for families. Recommended for children ages 8 and up.


Saturday, November 24, 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

San Francisco Opera’s education department hosts two interactive family workshops exploring Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Held in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building, the workshops are for families with children ages 6 and older to learn together about the opera’s story, music, production design and characters. Children should be accompanied by at least one parent or guardian. Tickets are $10. For tickets and more information, visit or call (415) 864-3330.

*For the complete press release, including full cast and calendar, please view the attached PDF.