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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[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 large, epically proportioned work … the music is flawlessly beautiful, like a jewel. It is intensely lyrical, powerfully moody and superbly well paced. There are no disjunctures of style or breaks in dramatic flow; instead, Heggie has created a giant symphonic poem through which he threads the voices majestically and gloriously.
... an astounding journey. The Great American Novel has become a grand new opera.
Moby-Dick turned out to be one of the most satisfying new operas I've seen premiered... the opening-night crowd in Dallas broke into spontaneous applause three times during the first half, and screamed and yelled its approval at the curtain calls. It was a wonderful and rare reminder that new opera truly can excite people if it's done right.
Earlier this month I saw the future of opera. It is Moby-Dick at Dallas' Winspear Opera House.
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.
...a massive artistic accomplishment.
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.
...probably one of the most successful new operas to reach the stage in the past quarter century.
The score is studded with vivid scenes in many modes. But the distinction of Moby-Dick lies less in its parts than in the whole. Though the action is episodic, the libretto holds a taut arc. The score holds together, too, shaped by the gravitational pull of the ties, ever-changing in the music yet ever-present. Ribbons of silken melody, played by solo winds and reeds, ripple high above, like wayward breezes. Pizzicati conjure up pinpricks of starlight on the waves. Under the baton of Patrick Summers, the score unfolded majestically, never rushed yet never meandering, the dramatic incidents clearly set off within the greater flow.

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)