Christmas Classic 'It's a Wonderful Life' Becomes An Opera

Tuesday, December 06, 2016 - 10:37 AM

Jake Heggie's opera adaption of 'It's A Wonderful Life' premieres in Houston. (Karen Almond/Houston Grand Opera)

Like every other holiday season since 1946, it’s a fair bet that this month millions of viewers will be settling in with the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. The enduring tale has left its mark all over pop culture — it’s gotten a couple remakes, an unauthorized sequel and it’s been parodied by seemingly everyone between the Muppets and Married… With Children. But this year, the film inspired a work like none other: an opera.

Premiering at the Houston Grand Opera this past Friday and created by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, It’s a Wonderful Life breathes new life into the familiar story. George Bailey, disappointed with his life’s prospects and feeling rejected by everyone around him, is visited by an angel who shows him just how valuable his life is to the people closest to him.

NPR Classical notes that this isn’t a film-turned-opera and that there are plenty of elements that diverge from the original movie. So even if you’ve managed to watch the movie every year since your first Christmas, the opera will provide an experience that feels somewhat new.

One of the biggest plot differences comes from the relationship between Bailey and the angel, Clarence. In the opera, the angel’s name is Clara, and her relationship with George is made more complex.

It’s a Wonderful Life’s first run concludes mid-December and will reemerge in two years in San Francisco. Until you get a chance to see it, check out this short video featuring the piece at the University of Colorado’s New Opera Workshop. Who knows, maybe this will one day be as loved as the film.

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