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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab [Photo by Photografeo courtesy of San Diego Opera]
24 Feb 2012

Moby-Dick, San Diego

When Captain Ahab sailed the Pequod into San Diego this week, he brought a new American opera with him. Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick is a stunning work likely to have universal appeal.

Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick

Queegueg:Jonathan Lemalu; Greenhorn:Johnathan Boyd; Starbuck:Morgan Smith; Pip:Talise Ttrevigne; Captain Ahab:Jay Hunter Morris; Conductor: Joseph Mechavich; Director and Dramaturg:Leonard Foglia; Librettist:Gene Scheer; Scenic Designer:Robert Brill; Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood; Lighting Designer:Donald Holder; Projection Designer:Elaine J. McCarthy.

Above: Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab [Photo by Photografeo courtesy of San Diego Opera]


Its libretto is taut and clear, its music accessible and appealing, and its visual effects spectacular and breathtaking. If you can get to see this production, do not miss it.

Moby-Dick, first performed by the Dallas Opera company in 2010, was jointly commissioned by Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego and Calgary Operas and the State Opera of South Australia. Calgary and South Australia have already seen it. The San Diego production marks its West Coast premier. San Francisco will see it this fall.

Melville was an author obsessed with telling what he considered the whole truth about everything. “Taking a book off the brain is akin to the ticklish and dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel — you have to scrape off the whole brain in order to get at it with due safety,” he wrote while at work on Moby-Dick. Its main characters’ histories and emotional stories, its metaphorical, symbolic meanings were buried deep in over seven hundred pages of side tales and expository material. Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer miraculously reduced this leviathan work to two dramatic acts. Working with director and dramaturg Leonard Foglia and a visual production team, they shaped the material into an opera in which words, music and extraordinary visual effects flow together seamlessly.

The ingenious sets and projections begin during the overture and take us from the starry heaven to the deck of the Pequod just as the curtain rises. As the story rolls on we see the crew climbing the rigging, the ship jibing, a boy flailing in hostile seas, harpooners leaping in and falling out of small boats. Amazingly there is singing going on all the time.

Sheer’s libretto effectively captures the essence of human longings and love through poetic language and occasional patterns of rhyme. He centered the plot in two struggles as seen through two sets of relationships. The core of Moby-Dick is the moral and ethical struggle between the mad Captain Ahab ruthlessly pursing the white whale, and Starbuck, his principled first mate, who tries vainly to become the unhearing Ahab’s voice of conscience. We learn the yearning of the fearful young seaman called Greenhorn, who knows little of life and less about sailing, through his interaction with Queequeg, the self-contained aborigine harpooner, who befriends him. Then there is the cabin boy, Pip, loved by all, who sings, dances, plays his tambourine, and goes mad. The large crew provides an impressive male chorus.

Conductor Joseph Mechavich, replacing San Diego’s principal conductor, Karen Keltner, who became ill just before rehearsals were to begin, led an assured performance. Mechavich had conducted the work in Calgary. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris who had sung Captain Ahab in Australia was literally dropped into costume overnight after a run of Siegfrieds at the Met, when Ben Heppner left after the first performance. Stomping around on his peg leg, Morris handled the role’s high tessitura effortlessly. His second act duet with the excellent Morgan Smith, a veteran Starbuck, new to San Diego, was memorable. Jonathan Boyd, new to both San Diego and the role, was a sweet voiced Greenhorn, perfectly paired with the Queegueg of bass Jonathan Lemalu, another Moby Dick veteran, debuting in San Diego. The duet in which the two, high in the rigging, dream of a peaceful future on Queegueg’s island, is almost a love song. Soprano Talise Trevigne’s rich soprano, coupled with her agility and charm made one feel for the unfortunate Pip.

Jake Heggie is a composer known for his songs as well as operas. He not only writes movingly for the voice, but commands a rich and colorful orchestral palette, and has an enormous lyric gift. Extraordinarily for a newly heard work, a friend and I left the opera house singing snatches of its oft repeating orchestral themes. Is this good or bad? Will this score with its movie-music edge and oft repeated theme, survive? I have no doubt that the opera’s prelude and sea music will someday become a Moby-Dick suite, much like Sea Interludes taken from Britten’s Peter Grimes. There is much in this work both literally and musically of Britten’s Billy Budd (also based on a Melville novel). Musical references to Puccini, Bernstein, even Copland and Philip Glass have all been noted in Heggie’s score. But it is Heggie’s score alone that will determine the place of Moby Dick in the operatic repertoire.

I’d like to think that Moby-Dick will long be a part of the American operatic scene. But I worry how it will fare if and when less expensive productions cannot do justice to the visual aspects of the production. Will the music and story hold up?

The first act of the opera is spell binding as the visuals and story lines unfold before us. The second act, while visually brilliant, and offering two lyrical duets, is somewhat static, as we await the predictable conclusion. The Pequod is destroyed, the crew is lost at sea. We are astounded by the speed and brilliance of the scene, by the powerful rhythms and clashing dissonances of the sea, but we are not deeply moved. We have witnessed a huge tragedy, good people have died, but there is no single character aboard the Pequod whose fate moves us to tears; no Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, nor even the murderous barge captain, Michele in Il Tabarro.

Make no mistake, this was a thrilling evening of opera, greeted enthusiastically by a grateful audience. I left the theater feeling that American composers, writers and visual artists will keep opera alive throughout this still new century. .

Kudos to the San Diego opera company for having brought this work to its stage. Though not privy to the company’s internal workings, I know that aside from raising $2,398,956 required for artists, crews, sets, and everything else, its General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell and staff had to replace his conductor once and his star tenor, twice. So I’m grateful that Mr. Campbell too seems to have been a bit obsessed with finding Moby-Dick.

Estelle Gilson

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