Opera’s first-rate cast, exciting music create a powerful ‘Moby-Dick’
Contemporary operas rarely become staples, but Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick” is well on its way. After a highly praised 2010 Dallas premiere, it has had four additional productions, including one at San Francisco Opera in October 2012, recorded live for this two-DVD set.
Heggie’s first opera, “Dead Man Walking,” garnered impressive reviews for the composer at age 39. That 2000 opera and his next two in 2004 and 2008 were based on down-to-earth 20th century subjects. But “Moby-Dick,” based on Herman Melville’s 1851 epic novel, has a scope and depth well beyond Heggie’s previous operatic efforts.
Gene Scheer’s excellent libretto retains much of Melville’s heightened language and symbolism, but condensed within a clear, concise storyline. Heggie uses Scheer’s structure to build distinctive musical pictures, from roiling seas and raging storms to lusty crew outbursts and Captain Ahab’s intense confrontations with his officers. There is dissonance and cacophony appropriate to the action but also many moments of beautiful lyricism and exciting rhythmic thrust. Despite hints of Benjamin Britten and Philip Glass, “Moby-Dick” has a unique sound, often employed to stunning effect.
The first-rate cast includes Jay Hunter Morris’ steely, wild-eyed Ahab, Jonathan Lemalu’s exotic, lovable Queequeg, and Talise Travigne’s perky, innocent Pip. Patrick Summers’ taut conducting, along with Robert Brill’s imaginative sets and Elaine J. McCarthy’s haunting projections, make this a riveting experience.
Correspondent Roy C. Dicks