Libretto by Gene Scheer & Music by Joby Talbot
‘Everest,” a remarkable first opera by the British composer Joby Talbot, which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera on Friday, forges art from a contemporary tragedy. Based on the true story of three climbers trapped on Mount Everest in a blizzard in May 1996 (the expedition that was chronicled by Jon Krakauer in “Into Thin Air”), this 70-minute juggernaut makes you feel disturbingly in the moment, living—and dying—along with the characters. Gene Scheer’s taut, streamlined libretto, drawn from interviews with survivors, focuses on two situations: Rob Hall (the expedition leader) and Doug Hansen push on to the summit even though Doug is unwell, and Beck Weathers stays behind and gets lost. The fragmentation of the narrative builds suspense, and the stories are welded together by a chorus that echoes and questions the climbers.
Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain and one of the most dangerous, having claimed more than 200 lives over the past century. Until last year's fatal avalanche, the deadliest year in recorded history was 1996: 15 people died, eight of them in a single blizzard. That disaster has been chronicled in at least five books, two documentaries — and now, an opera premiering in Dallas, Texas, simply called Everest.