If I Were You

A WORLD PREMIERE, August 1 — 6, 2019
San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre
The Merola Opera Program presents its first commissioned work, the world premiere of the new full-length opera, If I Were You, by distinguished American composer Jake Heggie and noted librettist Gene Scheer.
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❝ It has long been a dream of mine to write a full-length stage work especially for the Merola Opera Program to celebrate its legacy and spotlight its important place in the world of opera. I’m absolutely over the moon that the time has come with If I Were You. ❞


Jake HeggieComposer Jake Heggie

Gene ScheerLibrettist Gene Scheer

Keturah StickannDirector Keturah Stickann

Nicole PaiementConductor Nicole Paiement



If I Were You is based on a novel by Julien Green, who was born in Paris in 1900 to American parents. Green's work, written in French but heavily influenced by American authors such as Poe, Twain, Faulkner, Penn Warren, Welty, and Hawthorne, often deals with doppelgangers and the conflict between purity and passion. Gene Scheer's libretto updates the setting to the present day. It is a Faustian/Jekyll & Hyde story with an element of magical realism which is new ground for Heggie and Scheer. The story begins with the hero, Fabian, nearly dying in a car crash. The devil, in the guise of a beautiful, seductive woman, offers him the power to breathe his soul into another person so that he can live their life instead of his own. He can live forever this way, if he chooses, moving from body to body. As the shy Fabian becomes a wealthy older man, a young handsome brute, and eventually a young woman, the opera will deal with issues of age, power, sexual politics, and gender identity that are both timeless and very much part of the contemporary zeitgeist.

❝ If I Were You has been one of the most challenging, inspiring and rewarding projects of my career – up there with Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick. It is a big, dramatic, powerful story of identity, love and loss that feels timely and timeless, American and universal, human and supernatural.  ❞

—Composer Jake Heggie

Jake continues, "After composing It’s A Wonderful Life, I was hungry for a very different kind of project: one that would demand a dark, complicated psychology and poetry, and a musical language to match. A modern-day Faust story seemed just the thing: something in the world of magic realism that I have not yet explored. This score has pushed me into new territory as a composer and allowed me to find new levels of expression."

"It’s always difficult to describe music in words," Jake says. "The whole point is for the music to take us to places that the words alone cannot. I feel the score to If I Were You does this. It creates an eerily beautiful soundscape filled with the arching, long-line lyricism I love and allows for great characters and deep drama to unfold in operatic terms. I can’t think of an opera that is quite like it – which is both exciting and terrifying. But I feel it is very much an essential story for our time, and I’m on fire with the possibilities."



Jake Heggie, Composer

Based in San Francisco, the internationally renowned composer has a long and successful history with both San Francisco Opera, and the Merola Opera Program - many of whose participants have starred in his operas on stages around the world. “Throughout my career as a composer and pianist, I’ve had the great opportunity to collaborate with an array of dazzling singers. Time and again, I’m delighted to discover how many of them have a connection with the great Merola Opera Program.” said Heggie. “What an indelible difference Merola has made as the standard bearer for young artist programs! Just consider its history and the number of brilliant careers that have begun with Merola. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of composing roles and songs for Merolini, and the pleasure of seeing them inhabit and create characters in my operas.”

Jake Heggie is the composer of the acclaimed operas Dead Man Walking (libretto by Terrence McNally), Moby-Dick (libretto by Gene Scheer), It’s A Wonderful Life (Scheer), Great Scott (McNally), Three Decembers (Scheer), The End of the Affair (libretto by Heather McDonald), Out of Darkness (Scheer), To Hell and Back (Scheer), and The Radio Hour (Scheer). He has also composed chamber, choral and orchestral works, as well as more than 250 art songs, many for today’s most revered singers, including Kiri Te Kanawa, Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald, Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato, Jamie Barton, Sasha Cooke, Frederica von Stade, Stephen Costello, and Bryn Terfel, among many others. His operas have been produced extensively on five continents with major productions in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Diego, Washington DC, Dallas, Houston, Dresden, Vienna, Cape Town, Sydney, Adelaide, Montreal, Calgary, Dublin, Malmö, and Copenhagen. Dead Man Walking has received nearly 70 international productions since its premiere in San Francisco, as well as two live recordings. Moby-Dick was telecast nationally as part of Great Performances’ 40th season and released on DVD (EuroArts).

Gene Scheer, Librettist

Gene Scheer’s work is noted for its scope and versatility. With Heggie, he has collaborated on many projects, including the critically acclaimed 2010 Dallas Opera world premiere, Moby-Dick, starring Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab; Three Decembers (Houston Grand Opera), which starred Frederica von Stade; and the lyric drama To Hell and Back (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), which featured Patti LuPone. Other works by Scheer and Heggie include Camille Claudel: Into the fire, a song cycle premiered by Joyce DiDonato and the Alexander String Quartet. Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away, featured in Marsalis’s work Congo Square.

With the composer Steven Stucky, Scheer wrote the oratorio August 4, 1964, for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for Best Classical Composition. Other operas include Everest (Joby Talbot), and Cold Mountain (Jennifer Higdon), which won the International Opera Award for the best world premiere in 2015 and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Classical Composition. In 2016, Scheer and Heggie premiered an operatic adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life, which was presented by San Francisco Opera in November 2018. Also a composer, Scheer has written songs for talents such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn.

Keturah Stickann, Director

Ms. Stickann is a frequent collaborator with theater and opera director, Leonard Foglia. She was the choreographer for It’s a Wonderful Life for its Houston Grand Opera debut and subsequent performances at Indiana University. She was the choreographer and movement director for the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick in Dallas in 2010, traveling around the world with the production, and was the revival director for its return to Dallas Opera. Also with Mr. Foglia, she is the associate director and choreographer for the mariachi opera: Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, which premiered at Houston Grand Opera, and is still touring, was the assistant director for the world premiere of Cold Mountain (Santa Fe Opera), the choreographer for A Coffin In Egypt (Houston Grand Opera), and his assistant for the tour of Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show: Let Me Down Easy.

Ms. Stickann's other directing and choreographic credits include Pelléas et Mélisande (West Edge Opera), Turandot (San Diego Opera), L'Orfeo ed Euridice (Florida Grand Opera), Norma (Opera Southwest), Seven Deadly Sins/Pagliacci (Virginia Opera), Macbeth (Kentucky Opera), Don Quichotte (San Diego Opera), L’Orfeo (Chautauqua Opera), Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera Colorado), Orpheus and Euridice (Vermont Opera Project), Flight (Opera Fayetteville), Don Giovanni (Janiec Opera Company, Virginia Opera), Rigoletto (Opera Memphis), The Tales of Hoffman (Knoxville Opera), Manon (Knoxville Opera), La tragédie de Carmen (Janiec Opera Company), Madama Butterfly (Opera Santa Barbara).

Nicole Paiement, Conductor

Conductor Nicole Paiement has gained an international reputation as a conductor of contemporary music and opera, with numerous recordings including many world premieres. As Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle, Paiement has conducted many new productions, including: world premieres of Luciano Chessa’s commissioned opera A Heavenly Act, the commissioned chamber version of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, the premiere of the re-orchestration of Terence Blanchard’s Champion in collaboration with SFJAZZ Center; the American Premieres of Adam Gorb’s Anya 17 and Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness; the San Francisco Bay Area return of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking; and a new production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse, among others. Additionally, Paiement has been the Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) where she has commissioned, premiered, and recorded works from a wide variety of living American composers.

SUPPORT for If I Were You


Betty Poetz Ferguson Foundation
Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation
John A. & Cynthia Fry Gunn
Jack H. Lund Foundation
Diane B. Wilsey


Barbara Bruser & Richard Clark
Mary & Craig Henderson
Scott & Susan Lord
Susan York


Donna & Nordin Blacker
Carlyn Clause & Alexander Brainerd
Jayne & Peter Davis
Robert Ellis
Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation
Franklin P. & Catherine Johnson
Bernice Lindstrom
James Noe III
Bernard & Barbro Osher
Ululani Foundation—Steve & Diane Heiman
Bruce & Fran Walker
This production of If I Were You is sponsored in part by the Amphion Foundation and the Bernard Osher Foundation.


PEARL CAST (August 1 & 4)
Brittomara: Cara Collins
Fabian: Michael Day
Diana: Esther Tonea
Selena: Patricia Westley
Putnam: Rafael Porto
Paul: Timothy Murray
David: Brandon Scott Russell
Rachel: Edith Grossman
Jonathan: Edward Laurenson
Two Women: Chelsea Lehnea, Amber R. Monroe
EMERALD CAST (August 3 & 6
Brittomara: Brennan Blankenship
Fabian: Nicholas Huff
Diana: Anne-Marie MacIntosh
Selena: Elisa Sunshine
Putnam: Rafael Porto
Paul: Timothy Murray
David: Brandon Scott Russell
Rachel: Edith Grossman
Jonathan: Edward Laurenson
Two Women: Chelsea Lehnea, Amber R. Monroe

If I Were You is double-cast to give more of our 2019 Merola Artists a chance to create roles in a new work. This also gives the 2019 apprentice coaches and apprentice stage director the opportunity to work directly with a composer and librettist on a new opera. With more and more opera companies premiering new works, participating in a world premiere will be invaluable training for this group of young artists. If I Were You will also be a piece ideally suited to other training programs, conservatories, and regional opera companies, immeasurably enriching the modern opera repertoire.



The Making of If I Were You - Part 1

Merola Opera Program presents the world premiere of If I Were You an opera in two acts by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, opening at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, August 1 - 6, 2019. Watch now to learn about what went into creating If I Were You.

The Making of If I Were You - Part 2

Merola Opera Program presents the world premiere of If I Were You an opera in two acts by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, opening at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, August 1-6. Watch now to learn the story of If I Were You and meet characters Fabian and Brittomara.


The Making of If I Were You - Part 3

Merola Opera Program presents the world premiere of If I Were You, an opera in two acts by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, opening at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, August 1 - 6, 2019. Watch now to learn more about the character Fabian and his journey in the story of If I Were You.

The Making of If I Were You - Part 4

Watch the world premiere of If I Were You being created. Hear from composer Jake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer, director Keturah Stickann and her design team about how they see this new opera coming together and what you'll see on stage in August.