Armistead Maupin created legions of fans with his "Tales of the City" stories, first serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid-'70s, then published in books and later broadcast over PBS and Showtime in two miniseries.
People who wanted the stories to go on forever can find a little comfort when San Francisco composer Jake Heggie's "Anna Madrigal Remembers"--set to a new Maupin text--makes its Southern California premiere Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
"I thought it would be a lot of fun to update Anna Madrigal to remind people that she's still around, still running the apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane," Maupin said of the woman he calls the "transsexual mother figure" of the series and landlady of the apartment house where the main characters live.
"People often ask me about the characters and what they're up to," he said in an interview from his San Francisco home. "This is a perfect way to do that."
The work, first performed in August, will be sung by mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and the San Francisco male a cappella group Chanticleer, which commissioned the work.
The concert will open the Eclectic Orange Festival--sponsored by the Philharmonic Society--running through mid-November at various Orange County venues.
Madrigal is now 80 and welcoming a prospective new tenant. Fortunately, age has not diminished her wondrous capacities and zest for life.
"She's quite lucid," Maupin said, adding, "thanks largely to her continued consumption of marijuana."
Is that for publication?
"Yes, write down everything I say."
Heggie, 38, formerly of Los Angeles, is San Francisco Opera's first composer-in-residence. His first opera will be "Dead Man Walking," based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean. His librettist is playwright Terrence McNally. That work will be premiered by San Francisco Opera in October 2000.
Heggie had little time to write "Anna Madrigal." Maupin delayed getting the new text to him because he was under deadline to finish his latest novel, "The Night Listener." And Von Stade had to learn it quickly because she had been busy in Buenos Aires, singing in Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande."
"I had a 10-day period to write the whole thing," Heggie said. "I put nose to the grindstone. But I tend to write quickly once I have a concept in my head. I don't do lots of sketches. Once I decide what it is, that's how it goes."
He had asked Maupin not to try to write in rhyme or verse.
"I said, 'Your language is so musical, I'll find the rhythm to it if you just write the way you write.' Anything that reads that easily and brilliantly, there's a rhythm and a musicality to it. I worked that way with Terrence McNally too."
Von Stade has commissioned several works from Heggie and will sing the role of the inmate's mother in "Dead Man Walking."
"He knows how to write for the voice," Von Stade said from her home in Alameda. "He has great taste in words. He's a beautifully educated person. I love the texts he picks and the way he picks them. They really show off the voice. I've done a lot of his stuff, and this is one of my favorites."
Maupin had wondered how Heggie would combine the male and female singers in the piece.
"If this is a woman singing, what do we do with male voices?" Maupin asked him. "Then Jake pointed out . . . that she was a transsexual. So she had both elements within her. The male voices are used to represent that side of herself."
Added Heggie: "I just like exploring the different combinations and complexity you can get from 12 male voices and the solo female voice. It also just made sense for them all together in the end."
Like many of the characters in "Tales of the City," Heggie was transformed by his move to San Francisco in 1993.
He had stopped playing piano due to hand problems from repetitive stress injury. His wife, Johana Harris-Heggie, was dying in Los Angeles. He had even stopped composing.
"It was a mess," he said.
But Heggie retrained his hand. (He plays the piano on "The Faces of Love: The Songs of Jake Heggie"--RCA Victor Red Seal--which enlists Von Stade, Renee Fleming, Sylvia McNair and other major singers.) And he began composing again.
"My style really solidified when I moved to San Francisco. It developed when I learned to trust my own instincts. What I found was that I had to leave behind all that stuff from my university years and how I thought I was supposed to be writing."
Besides "Dead Man Walking," Heggie has commissions that will keep him busy for the next two years. They're all vocal, however.
"I love instrumental music," he said. "As soon as people start commissioning me, I'll do that.
Other than providing Heggie with this piece, Maupin hasn't been tempted to continue the "Tales of the City" series.
"Many years have passed since the last book--almost 12 years since we last saw the characters," he said. "I don't think they'd still be living in Barbary Lane when they're 50 years old. People do tend to scatter to the winds.