Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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

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):