- Denis Kozhukhin Impresses in Prokofiev’s ‘War Sonatas’
Seen and Heard International
- KUOK-WAI LIO RECEIVES AVERY FISHER CAREER GRANT
Avery Fisher Artist Program
- JAMES CONLON OPENS THE 2013 FESTIVAL DE SAINT-DENIS CONDUCTING TWO CONCERTS OF BERLIOZ’S L’ENFANCE DU CHRIST IN HONOR OF SIR COLIN DAVIS WHO WAS SCHEDULED TO CONDUCT THE WORK
Shuman Associates Inc
- Review: Powerful reading of Mozart Requiem opens May Fest
- Review: May Festival reaches heavenly heights with 'War Requiem'
- Pianist Shai Wosner finds Schubert’s dark side
The Washington Post
Jon Kimura Parker
- Jon Kimura Parker Takes on Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev & Stravinsky
- OPUS 3 ARTISTS SIGNS ALEXANDRE THARAUD
Sir Andrew Davis
- Review: Philharmonia Orchestra, St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Sir Andrew Davis
- Philharmonia Orchestra, St David's Hall
South Wales Argus
Opera Review: Heggie’s ‘Moby Dick’ in Dallas
San Francisco Chronicle
By Joshua Kosman
To any reasonable person, the idea of turning "Moby-Dick" into an opera would seem a foolhardy venture, an overweening act of hubris worthy of the blindly monomaniacal Captain Ahab himself.
But composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer have done more than merely pulled it off: They've made it look easy.
Their powerful and emotionally irresistible new work, which opened over the weekend at the Dallas Opera, doesn't shy away from the challenges presented by Melville's landmark novel. Instead, it deftly sidesteps them, drawing from the source only those things needed for the drama and using Heggie's lush, expressive music to carry the show.
The result - aside from one obvious and bizarre miscalculation - is a vibrant, compelling piece of musical theater, and Sunday's performance in the company's gleaming new Winspear Opera House did the piece full justice. "Moby-Dick," which is scheduled to arrive at the San Francisco Opera in 2012, is easily Heggie's finest creation since "Dead Man Walking" first put him on the map a decade ago.
The first and canniest thing to note about the opera is that it has nothing much to do with whales. Sure, the title character - the ferocious White Whale who is the object of Ahab's vendetta - is still out there somewhere, and one or two of his fellow cetaceans find themselves on the wrong end of a harpoon.
But the whole elaborate world of 19th century whaling has been neatly jettisoned, along with the metaphorical and philosophical baggage that Melville forces it to carry. Instead, Heggie and Scheer concentrate on those parts of the novel that opera handles best: the interpersonal dynamics of individual men thrown together in the isolation of a ship at sea.
In particular, "Moby-Dick" focuses on the struggle between Ahab and his first mate, Starbuck, who emerges as the chief counterweight to the captain's fierce madness.
But other characters too make their distinctive presences felt: Queequeg, the noble Pacific Islander; Pip, the black cabin boy, given a tellingly heightened prominence; and of course Melville's pseudonymous narrator, the first-time whaler who is referred to as Greenhorn but who finds the exact moment to sing the famous line "Call me Ishmael."
All of these characters and more are delineated in a score that is supple, fluid and - without a hint of pandering - accessible. Heggie's great achievement in "Moby-Dick" is to write melodies that are memorable without being predictable, using harmonies that are clear but flavorful.
The formal dramaturgy, too, is sleek and uncluttered, unfolding in a series of crisply rounded arias, choruses and especially duets. Among the latter are a heart-tugging scene for Greenhorn and Queequeg that places Melville's coded homoeroticism explicitly into the tradition of the operatic love duet, and a tense Act 1 standoff between Ahab and Starbuck that is balanced in Act 2 by a sumptuous rapprochement between them over the memories of their respective families.
When the opera does turn its attention to the natural world, it looks not to whales but to the open sea, a force that is by turns placid and tempestuous.
The expected point of comparison would seem to be Britten's "Billy Budd" - also a Melvillean tale of men at sea - but "Moby-Dick" evades that face-off as easily as it does the literary one. The opera that comes more often to mind, in fact, is Britten's "Peter Grimes," whose musical evocations of the sea are the clear model for Heggie's.
"Moby-Dick" comes to grief just once, but that lone blunder is a doozy. It happens just before the end of the opera, when Ahab and the White Whale have their final showdown, and even if the title character is something of a MacGuffin in this telling, the audience could be forgiven for expecting something suitably climactic.
Instead, Heggie's score suddenly lapses into a long, torpid stillness that is presumably meant to inspire nervous apprehension. Then Moby-Dick's deadly presence is announced by a saucy and entirely un-menacing Latin rhythm, as though he were some kind of marine-mammal Carmen Miranda.
Still, not even that unintentionally comic moment could mute the cumulative effect of Sunday's performance, superbly led by conductor Patrick Summers and staged with theatrical aplomb by director Leonard Foglia. Robert Brill's inventive set, elegantly lit by Donald Holder, did as much as the music to conjure up the opera's maritime world.
And the cast was superb from top to bottom, beginning with the forceful and sensitive Ahab of tenor Ben Heppner, for whose combination of lyrical grace and heroic power the role was written. He had an intelligent and rich-toned counterpart in the Starbuck of baritone Morgan Smith.
Tenor Stephen Costello was an ardent, sweet-voiced Greenhorn, and there were strong contributions from Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), Robert Orth (Stubb) and former Adler Fellow Matthew O'Neill (Flask). As Pip, soprano Talise Trevigne commanded attention at every moment with her silvery, precise vocalism and magnetic stage presence.