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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

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):