Composers Datebook®

Heggie Writes a Choral Opera

Composer's Datebook - May 18, 2023


In Costa Mesa, California, on today’s date in 2014, the Pacific Chorale premiered a new choral opera. And what exactly is a “choral opera” you ask? Good question – and one that puzzled Jake Heggie as well, since he was the composer commissioned for that occasion.

Heggie and his librettist Gene Sheer at first scratched their heads. As Heggie put it, “Operas require action, characters, conflicts, journeys, transformation movement. Choirs stand still and make beautiful sound.”

They came up with a unique solution involving one character, Nora, a silent, on- stage actress, whose inner thoughts are sung by half of the choir, while the other half expresses the sounds and surroundings of the outside world Nora chooses to hear on a day in her life on which everything seems to go wrong – starting with a returned, unopened, handwritten letter she had sent, pouring out her heart, to her jerk of a boyfriend. Even Nora’s apartment furniture gets in a word or two about her unhappy state. And where does Nora turn for comfort? Why, to the radio of course – hence the titled of the new choral opera:The Radio Hour.

Spoiler alert: the opera ends on a hopeful note for poor Nora.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jake Heggie (b. 1961) The Radio Hour John Alexander Singers; Pacific Symphony members; John Alexander, conductor. Delos 3484

On This Day


  • 1830 - Austro-Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark, in Keszthely, Hungary;

  • 1901 - French composer Henri Sauguet, in Bordeaux;


  • 1733 - German composer and organist Georg Böhm, age 71, in Lüneburg;

  • 1909 - Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, age 48, in Cambo-les-Bains;

  • 1910 - French composer and opera singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia, age 88, in Paris;

  • 1911 - Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, age 50, in Vienna;

  • 1975 - American composer Leroy Anderson, age 66, in Woodburg, Conn.;


  • 1885 - Bruckner: String Quintet in F (final version), in Vienna, by the Hellmesberger Quartet with guest violist; 24 years earlier, Joseph Hellmesberger had asked Bruckner to write a quartet for his ensemble; A partial performance of this work (minus the Finale, and with its original Scherzo replaced by an Intermezzo movement) was arranged in Vienna on November 27, 1881, by Bruckner's pupil Franz Schalk;

  • 1887 - Chabrier: "Le Roi malgre lui" (The King in Spite of Himself), in Paris at the Opera Comique;

  • 1897 - Dukas: tone-poem "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," in Paris, with the composer conducting;

  • 1917 - Satie: ballet "Parade," in Paris by the Ballet Russe;

  • 1922 - Stravinsky: opera, "Renard," at the Paris Opéra, with Ernest Anseremet conducting;

  • 1939 - Douglas Moore: opera "The Devil and Daniel Webster," in New York City;

  • 1940 - Luigi Dallapiccola: opera "Volo di Notte" (Night Flight), after the novel by Antoine Saint-Exupéry), in Florence;

  • 1949 - Milhaud: "Sabbath Morning Service" at Temple Emanu-El, in San Francisco, composer conducting;

  • 1950 - Lukas Foss: opera "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (after the short story by Mark Twain) in Bloomington, Ind.;

  • 1978 - Cowell: "Quartet Romantic" for 2 flutes, violin and viola, at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, by Paul Dunkel and Susan Palma (flutes), Ralph Schulte (violin) and John Graham (viola); This music was composed in 1917;

  • 1981 - Joan Tower: "Sequoia" in New York, with the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies;

  • 1988 - Philip Glass: opera "The Fall of the House of Usher" (after Poe) in Cambridge, Mass., at the American Repertory Theater;

  • 1990 - John Harbison: Viola Concerto, in Bridgewater, N.J., with soloist Jaime Laredo and the New Jersey Symphony, Hugh Wolff conducting;

  • 1996 - Philip Glass: opera "Les Enfants Terrible" (Children of the Game based on the novel by Jean Cocteau), by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Theatre Casino in Zug (Switzerland), Karen Kamensek conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®