Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Moby-Dick [Photo by Karen Almond courtesy of Dallas Opera]
10 May 2010

Heggie’s Moby-Dick a whale of an opera

It’s glorious and it’s gripping; it’s grand — and it’s good! Indeed, Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick, premiered by Dallas Opera in its handsome new Winspear Opera House on April 30, is a work that restores meaning to basic vocabulary made banal by overuse through the decades.

Jake Heggie: Moby Dick. Librettist: Gene Scheer

Captain Ahab: Ben Heppner; Greenhorn: Stephen Costello; Starbuck: Morgan Smith; Queequeg: Jonathan Lemalu; Flask: Matthew O'Neill; Stubb: Robert Orth; Pip: Talise Trevigne. Conductor: Patrick Summers. Stage Director: Leonard Foglia. Set Designer: Robert Brill. Projection Designer: Elaine J. McCarthy. Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood.

All photos Karen Almond courtesy of Dallas Opera.

 

Heggie — assisted by his seasoned librettist Gene Scheer — has achieved something with Moby Dick that American opera has not experienced in a long time: they have created a work of quality that should garner itself an immediate place in the repertory of opera houses around the world.

Announcement of the commission — Dallas Opera’s first for the Wiinspear — raised eyebrows, for few could imagine a less operatic novel than Hermann Melville’s 1851 detailed account of sailing and whaling. Running 500 to 700 pages in standard editions, the book is often dark and diffuse — everything that an opera cannot be, if it is to reach an audience with its story. In a sense, of course, Melville made it easy for Sheer, for the many exegesis on whaling were easily excised as the librettist laid bare the soul of the novel in his focus on its characters.

As told in the opera Moby Dick is now a story that explores the raw basic forces of life, underscoring the darkness that drives men and sends them to perdition. The Great White Whale is only a means to that end. Indeed, Sheer’s Ahab, the man who has lost a leg to the animal upon whom he seeks revenge, is yet another Faust out to defy the less-than-benevolent god embodied in the whale.

It is this confrontation with “the basics,” the unembellished dark drives that send men on impossible adventures, that the audience feels first-hand in this three-hour opera. “Feels,” one emphasizes, for Heggie has written music — always accessible — that requires no major act of mediation through performers. The score speaks always with telling directness. There is never “time out” to be mere opera. It is visceral music; now and then one puts up one’s hand in defense. That’s why one is wrung out at the end of Moby Dick, for one has been through it all with the many sailors on the Pequod. The opera keeps attention riveted on the stage; the mind is not allowed to wander. Most amazing aspect of the opera is that there is no feeling of condensation or that anything has been left out. Heggie more than compensates in mesmerizing music for the liberties taken with Melville’s text.

Heggie’s progress as a composer is documented throughout the score, which is largely through-composed with arias and ensembles seamlessly woven into it. The orchestral interludes are destined to take their place next to the Sea Interludes from Benjamin’s Peter Grimes.

Moby Dick is a Dallas co-commission with San Francisco, San Diego and Calgary Operas and State Opera of South Australia, and one can only hope that the other companies have the high-tech facilities that enabled the Winspear to take full advantage of an awesome world of effects — photos, projections and sets — that added so much to this initial staging.

Moby_21.gif

Director Leonard Foglia worked with the hand of a sorcerer to blend projection designs by Elaine McCarthy into an overpowering and effective whole with designs by Robert Brill and lighting by Donald Holder. Never did these visual aspects threaten the primacy of Heggie’s score, in which there is not one superfluous note.

Scheer achieved dramatic concentration by pairing Ahab — sung to perfection by veteran Ben Heppner - with first mate Starbuck — stunningly portrayed by Morgan Smith, a baritone at home in top German opera houses. They interlock with a second pairing: native and noble Queequeg, engrossingly portrayed by New Zealand Samoan Jonathan Lemalu, and Greenhorn, the young man out — Parsifal-like — to learn fear — so touchingly sung by young American tenor Stephen Costello.

Only in the final minutes of the work does Costello reveal that he is the man called Ishmael who opens the novel. He is of special interest as the one character who — in confronting fear — develops. The other three of this basic quartet remain what they were when the curtain rose.

Sole female in the cast was Talise Trevigne, whose touching incarnation of Cabin Boy Pip offered little hint of the successful Violetta, Lucia and Pamina that have made her famous in Europe.

Moby Dick is rich in powerful choruses — the major show-stoppers of the debut performance — admirable prepared by Alexander Rom.

Patrick Summers, Heggie perennial collaborator, evoked magnificent playing from the Dallas Opera Orchestra in giving birth to what is obviously a modern masterpiece of music theater.

(The opera will enlighten a young generation by revealing the source of the name Starbuck — even if it fails to explain the coffee company’s aversion to apostrophes.)

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):