Moby Dick (2010)

Libretto by Gene Scheer & Music by Jake Heggie

Moby Dick premiered at the Dallas Opera in 2010.

Moby Dick

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...probably one of the most successful new operas to reach the stage in the past quarter century.
Not only do I suspect that Moby-Dick will propel Heggie to the first rank of the extraordinary current crop of contemporary American opera composers, I believe that it quite possibly...will become the most popular opera written so far during our young century.
[Heggie & Scheer's] 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 is a vibrant, compelling piece of musical theater...easily Heggie's finest creation since Dead Man Walking first put him on the map a decade ago. 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.
Moby-Dick is a triumph! ... a total and memorable experience. What an exciting city and time we live in that gives rise to an international collaboration that produces a modern masterpiece such as Moby-Dick.
Moby-Dick, the opera, is a triumph. Stunningly staged and sung, it captures the elemental forces of the sea and Captain Ahab's obsession with the great white whale that has maimed him. Scheer seamlessly tunes his own prose and poetry to Melville's. Heggie composes vocal lines that make sense vocally and illumine words and emotions.
The seamless combination of projections, the physical set and live action is astounding, seeming to blend opera with theatre, circus, cinema and visual art into a multimedia extravaganza. It has to be seen to be believed.
Mr. Scheer’s libretto was an economical wonder, casting off Melville’s landlocked opening and stretches of minutiae regarding whales and whaling. What remained was a taut, two-act adventure yarn, bound by the relationships between Ahab and his conscientious first mate, Starbuck, and between the neophyte seaman Greenhorn (Melville’s Ishmael, renamed with dramatic intent) and Queequeg, the noble-savage harpooner.
It's glorious and it's gripping; it's grand — and it's good! Heggie — assisted by his seasoned librettist Gene Scheer — has achieved something with Moby-Dick that American opera has not experienced in a long time: they have created a work of quality that should garner itself an immediate place in the repertory of opera houses around the world. Director Leonard Foglia worked with the hand of a sorcere to blend projection designs by Elaine McCarthy into an overpowering and effective whole with designs by Robert Brill and lighting by Donald Holder. Never did these visual aspects threaten the primacy of Heggie's score, in which there is not one superfluous note. Patrick Summers, Heggie's perennial collaborator, evoked magnificent playing from The Dallas Opera Orchestra in giving birth to what is obviously a modern masterpiece of music theater.
Composer Jake Heggie achieved his goal Friday night with an achingly beautiful, magnificently sung and gorgeously staged world premiere of his Moby-Dick, the highlight of the Dallas Opera's first season at the sparkling new Winspear Opera House. The audience responded with an eight-minute standing ovation. Heggie is a rarity, an accessible composer whose melodic lines and sense of drama are aimed at audiences rather than academics. With librettist Gene Scheer, he has transformed Melville's sprawling novel into an active stage work.
... an astounding journey. The Great American Novel has become a grand new opera.

Orchestration

3 flutes (one doubles piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubles English Horn), 3 clarinets (one doubles bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubles contrabassoon), 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 percussion, 1 timpani, harp, strings

Performance History

The following companies have performed or scheduled future performances of the opera:

  1. The Dallas Opera (Apr 2010)
  2. State Opera of South Australia (Aug/Sept.2011)
  3. Calgary Opera (Jan 2012)
  4. San Diego Opera (Feb 2012)
  5. San Francisco Opera (Oct 2012)
  6. The Washington National Opera (Feb 2014)