How would you feel if someone asked you to make a generous annual donation to the Opera, and in addition, they asked you to volunteer to serve coffee and snacks to artists and stagehands in the canteen on performance nights? Or what about if you were asked to open up a spare room or two in your home as lodging for a young artist or two? Or six? Or seven?
And what if one of these young artists was suffering from the flu, and you were asked to serve her chicken soup and Gatorade until she was recovered enough to sing on the opera house main stage – let’s say something simple, like Lìu in Turandot? And let’s say you did all these things, and on top of it, you provided sponsorship support every year for an Adler Fellow; you remembered the Opera in your estate plans by establishing a charitable remainder trust; you encouraged everyone you met to support the Opera in any way they could; and you did all of these things in loving memory and in the name of your cherished late wife?
Opera is known for its fanciful plots, but we did not make this person up. This person’s devotion is very real to the young artists coming up through our Merola and Adler Fellow programs. To them, this person is simply known as Papa Jim – and he is our beloved James (Jim) Heagy, who on January 28 received the 2014 Spirit of the Opera award, the highest honor the Opera Association confers upon members of our community.
Jim speaks to the audience at our Medallion Society luncheon about receiving the Spirit of the Opera award.
Jim Heagy has given his all to make life a little easier and more pleasant for performers. His particular passion is for the young artists facing some of the most challenging years of their lives in our action-packed boot camps -- otherwise known as the Merola and Adler Fellows programs.
Jim and former Adler Fellow Nadine Sierra
But Jim knows that to a young performer, exhausted from weeks of hard work, a late-night trip for soft-serve at McDonald’s, or an impromptu dinner at Max’s can boost the spirit like nothing else (you could say that Jim likes to feed people.)
Jim, joined by former Adler Fellow Alek Shrader and Jean and Bob Brock
When you meet Jim, you won’t be surprised that on his first date with his late wife Janey, they played cello duets. Jim is a retired chemist, but music is his life. As a young couple, Jim and Janey played music because they couldn’t afford to see music. At one point, they started ushering at San Francisco Opera and, almost a decade later, when they were already fixtures at the opera house, they decided to subscribe.
Jim is the ultimate “unsung hero” who has gone above and beyond the call of duty for the opera. He earns special praise from the young artists he calls “his kids.” One of his Adler Fellows told us that when she gets married, she wants Jim to walk her down the aisle. Another one of his “kids” called Jim her “adopted dad.”
Former Adler Fellow Renee Tatum and Jim
There are stories about an interesting objet d’art in Jim’s home, currently known as the “Heagy Hotel.” Jim has prominently placed in his living room the nose cone of a one-megaton hydrogen bomb. (What else would you expect from a retired scientist?) One of Jim’s young artists – who now sings at major opera companies throughout Europe – believes that rubbing the atomic nose cone is one of the secrets to her success, and that of many other Adler Fellows!
Jim and former Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto
Jim’s enjoyment of opera and all that goes into this most complex of art forms inspires us every day. And the inspiration he has provided others through the years is simply beyond measure. No one better embodies the Spirit of the Opera than Jim Heagy, and we are thrilled to honor him this year. Congratulations, Jim!
General Director David Gockley, presenting Jim with his Spirit of the Opera award