I recommend the opera and the world premiere cast enthusiastically, with special note of Jake Heggie’s beautifully composed orchestral and vocal score and Gene Scheer’s intelligently conceived libretto.
It takes multiple ingredients for an opera to work, starting with a captivating story, which Moby-Dick” obviously has. But that sprawling novel had to be honed to a usable form, and Gene Scheer, one of today’s go-to librettists, did a first-rate job of conveying its scale and intimacy with vivid, imagistic language.
Composer Jake Heggie has found the musical equivalent of Melville's rich prose in his roiling and sparkling orchestral score, while librettist Gene Scheer perfectly captures the book's original tone and language, even as he drops the first-person narration. (Seen the movies? Scheer's tight storytelling improves upon the film condensations of the book.)
This grand American epic, featuring music by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Gene Scheer arrives in Chicago on the heels of critically acclaimed performances in Utah, Pittsburgh and San Jose. The production is conducted by Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya and directed by Kristine McIntyre. The design team includes David Jaques (Lighting), Erhard Rom (Sets) and Jessica Jahn (Costumes.) “‘Moby-Dick’ is a stunning work of extraordinarily powerful music and gripping storytelling,” said Yankovskaya. “Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have drawn from the most compelling and dramatic passages of Melville’s epic, crafting a deft adaptation that has thrilled audiences across the globe. We’re proud to be bringing this important American opera to Chicago audiences for the first time.”
Highlights of the American side included a zingy “Lullaby of Birdland,” a crystalline “Will He Like Me?” in which one could see the shy ingenue shining through her face, and Gene Scheer’s hymnlike “Lean Away,” which she dedicated to the recently deceased genre chameleon André Previn.
Gene Scheer’s tender, hearfelt song “Lean Away” was the lone contemporary entry of the program. Better known as the librettist of Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking,” the song provided a welcome opportunity to hear Scheer’s musical voice as a composer.
The operatic version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” that opened at the San Francisco Opera on Saturday, Nov. 17 – just in time for the holidays – is everything the classic Frank Capra movie of 1946 was before it. It’s fizzy and funny, heartwarming and sentimental, and full of just enough poster-board moralism to leave everyone (except perhaps money-grubbing slumlords) feeling pretty gosh-darned good about the world.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” just might be the opera we need right now. After a year of devastating fires, mass shootings, political turmoil and paralyzing uncertainty, Jake Heggie’s opera has arrived at the War Memorial Opera House with a simple, uplifting message: “no one is a failure who has friends.”
This piece is perfect for its time - it is completely relevant to the world that we live in today and applies to many things. Heggie, Zvulun, and Scheer make a perfect combo with an all star cast and crew and present a work prudent for today.