Oct. 19, 2023

The Making of Intelligence

Intelligence Composer Jake Heggie (left), Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (center), and Librettist Gene Scheer (right)

With Intelligence set to open on October 20, this moment is history-in-the-making for Houston Grand Opera. The team’s talented videographer, Alan Sellar, has been following the creation of this HGO-commissioned world-premiere opera from Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. The result is a fantastic nine-part series of short videos.  

Immerse yourself in The Making of Intelligence series and take an exclusive look behind the curtain at HGO’s thrilling world-premiere opera Intelligence: 

Episode 1— Opera? Me?  

We are shaping a new vision of American opera.” — Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

How did the founder of an avant-garde dance ensemble find herself one of the key creative minds behind an opera? Urban Bush Women founder and the director/choreographer/co-conceiver of Intelligence, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, reflects on her career and her unexpected dive into the art form.  

Episode 2— The Story of Intelligence

“As Mary Jane unearths the secrets of the Confederacy, she unearths the secrets of her own past.” — Gene Scheer

Where did the story of Intelligence come from? Uncover the truth with librettist Gene Scheer as he gives an inside look at the American history that inspired the premise for this world-premiere opera.

Episode 3— Origin Story

“I just felt like this was a story that had to be told.” — Jake Heggie

What made composer Jake Heggie decide to turn this true tale into an opera? Chat with Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar as they explain how this world-premiere opera came to be. 

Episode 4— Embracing Emotion

“Emotion sits in our stories and in our bodies.” — Jawolle Willa Jo Zollar

Jawolle Willa Jo Zollar muses on the entwined nature of art and emotion, a principle found in both her own work and the wider world of opera.

Photo Credit: Hayim Heron
Episode 5— Women’s Impact Through History and Today

It’s a story that feels very American, yet universal. Timely, yet timeless.”— Jake Heggie

Why did the story of Mary Jane Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew go untold for so long? Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Jake Heggie discuss how as spies, the two utilized their overlooked, invisible statuses as women to help the Union cause.  

Photo Credit: Lawrence Knox
Episode 6— Finding Harmony with Music and Movement

What’s new about Intelligence is the union of music and movement.”Vincent Thomas

Intelligence takes a singular approach to the art form. But what makes this approach so different from other operas? Find out as Gene Scheer and associate choreographer Vincent Thomas share the show’s unique philosophy.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Knox
Episode 7— Crafting a Timeless Opera

“Story is one thing, but music, image and movement transcend all of that.”— Kwamé Ryan

What allows a work of art to stand the test of time? Chat with Jake Heggie and Intelligence Conductor Kwamé Ryan as they discuss the significance of the opera to both their careers and the world at large.  

Photo Credit: Lawrence Knox
Episode 8— Exploring the Musical Pulse of Intelligence

In the penultimate episode of The Making of Intelligence, Jake Heggie shares his excitement for crafting an all-new musical palette for the show, matching the rhythm of dance to the orchestral elements of the score. 

Photo Credit: Lawrence Knox
Episode 9— Truth be Told: Houston is Home

“Houston is a place that embraces possibility.” — Jake Heggie 

How did Houston come to be the host of this once-in-a-lifetime world premiere? In the final episode of the series, Jake Heggie looks beyond the stage to reflect on the bold, innovative spirit of Houston.  

Photo Credit: James Niebuhr
about the author
Amber Francis
Amber Francis is Communications Coordinator at Houston Grand Opera.