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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Earlier this month I saw the future of opera. It is Moby-Dick at Dallas' Winspear Opera House.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
Melville's Moby-Dick has been called the Great American Novel. Jake Heggie's telling of the story is certainly a great American opera... ...a vibrant cast, headlined by Canadian star-tenor Ben Heppner, an atmospheric set enhanced by vido projections, and Heggie's sumptuous, noble score combined on May 5 for an exhilarating evening of music and theatre...
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.
[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.
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)