Libretto by Gene Scheer & Music by Jake Heggie
Moby Dick premiered at the Dallas Opera in 2010.
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.)
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.
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.
The operatic version [of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel “Moby-Dick”] manages to condense the book’s sprawling action into 2 1/2 hours without compromising the essential elements or the emotional power of the original.
[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.
[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, 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...
...a massive artistic accomplishment.
Earlier this month I saw the future of opera. It is Moby-Dick at Dallas' Winspear Opera House.
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
The following companies have performed or scheduled future performances of the opera:
- The Dallas Opera (Apr 2010)
- State Opera of South Australia (Aug/Sept.2011)
- Calgary Opera (Jan 2012)
- San Diego Opera (Feb 2012)
- San Francisco Opera (Oct 2012)
- The Washington National Opera (Feb 2014)