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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

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):