Merola Opera Program premieres its first-ever commission this week, a retelling of the Faust story called If I Were You, by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. It’s based on a novel by Julien Green, and tells of a man named Fabian who’s able to inhabit the bodies and souls of anyone he chooses. There will be four performances at Herbst Theatre between Thursday night and the following Tuesday.
There’s more information at the Merola Opera Program website.
“The devil makes a deal with a disillusioned young man, and makes a bargain with him. And of course the stakes are his soul and his life,” Jake Heggie says. “The way the bargain happens is this man is given a phrase that he can sing to someone else, and move his entire soul and being into their body, and therefore live their life as long as he wants. And in that way, if he wanted to, moving soul to soul to soul, he could live forever.” The novel was written in French by the American Julien Green in 1947. The adaptation adds a love interest named Diana. “Fabian is trying to become someone that could be loved by Diana. He doesn’t feel worthy himself, so he’s looking for an identity where he would feel worthy, and where she could love him. The big existential question of the entire opera is revealed, which is: are you going to live forever as somebody else, or are you going to die for love as yourself?” Despite it being written for the singers of the Merola program, which trains young singers (or maybe because of that), Heggie says they went all out. “This is a big, full scale opera. You’ve got to remember… last year they did The Rake’s Progress, and an early Mozart opera. They’ve done Traviata, Rigoletto, Così, Don Giovanni… Big singing, and big operas, and big demanding roles. So I wanted to write something that they could fully inhabit and enjoy, and that… Where Gene Sheer, my librettist, and I didn’t feel we had to compromise either… I wanted to give them something that was vocally and dramatically very challenging, that required not just a great singer, but a great singing actor, because that’s what’s demanded of them these days. And that’s the whole point of this training program, is to prepare these young people for careers.”