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.
There are a myriad of reasons why an operatic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air should not work. And yet it does. Composer Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer have crafted a compelling 70-minute opera adapted from Krakauer’s nonfiction account of the disastrous 1996 Everest season in which eight people died.
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.
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.
Atlanta Opera General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun said that dealing with the emotional intensity of the piece has been challenging and rewarding. “You see how powerful it is, how poignant.“
. . . Everest keeps melodramatic impulses at bay and controlled psychological tension ultimately saturates the scenario.