Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick
Jay Hunter Morris (Captain Ahab), Morgan Smith (Starbuck), Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), Stephen Costello (Greenhorn), Talise Trevigne (Pip), Matthew O’Neill (Flask), Robert Orth (Stubb), Joo Won Kang (Captain Gardiner), Carmichael Blankenship (Tashtego), Bradley Kynard (Daggoo), Chester Pidduck (Nantucket Sailor), Anders Froehlich (Spanish Sailor), San Francisco Opera Chorus, Ian Robertson (Chorus Director), Kay Stern (Concertmaster), San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Patrick Summers (Conductor), Leonard Foglia (Stage Director), Robert Brill (Set Designer), Jane Greenwood (Costume Designer), Donald Holder (Lighting Designer), Elaine J. McCarthy (Projection Designer), Keturah Stickann (Movement Director/Choreographer)
Recording: San Francisco Opera (October 2012) – 193’ (including bonus material)
EuroArts #2059658 (Distributed by Naxos of America)
Herman Melville’s classic about a maniacal Nantucket captain’s desperate search to finish off the notorious white sperm whale once and for all comes to life under the amazing stage direction of Leonard Foglia. Set against the powerful musical backdrop by Jake Heggie, Moby-Dick is a high-techno drama engulfing all senses of the body.
Moby-Dick made its world premiere in 2010 in Dallas to commemorate the opening of the city’s new Winspear Opera House. The work is a joint commission of the Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco, and Calgary opera companies plus the State Opera of South Australia. Like the Pequod, Moby-Dick has traveled around the world and has recently been televised on PBS (November 1, 2013.) The highly anticipated production will make landfall once again at The Washington National Opera House in February 2014.
ConcertoNet has been present for several of the celebratory events surrounding Moby-Dick since its inception. Paul Wooley’s insightful 2009 article highlighted the opera’s genesis and developmental aspects (Read here) while Christie Grimstad caught up with Messieurs Heggie and Foglia during a 2010 press mixer at San Diego Opera (Read here). Two years later San Diego Opera’s well-publicized event brought Moby-Dick to the Civic Theatre that was a bit unsettling on opening night. In this go-around, Ben Heppner was cast as Captain Ahab, but the heldentenor began experiencing vocal problems well ahead of the opera’s opening night of February 18, 2012 (after he had withdrawn from The Met’s 2011 Ring as Siegfried.) With a cracking voice and clearly struggling with the music, Heppner cancelled the remainder of performances, and he was replaced by Jay Hunter Morris (Read here).
Very much the approachable, open-minded composer, Jake Heggie fosters permeable confluences amongst principals that infiltrate Moby-Dick with fluidity, palpability and energy it so justly deserves. It’s one thing to see the Melville musical invention in person, but it’s even mightier reading the characters’ emotions pouring out of the screen. With profuse sweat dripping down his face and blood vessels ready to pop in his temple is evidence enough of how much Jay Hunter Morris lives his role…the drive and draw are downright scary, yet he also shows his softer side while singing his “The Symphony” with Starbuck which is exceedingly well executed by Morgan Smith. Smith’s altercation with Hunter Morris will leave one breathless.
The newbie, Greenhorn, belongs to Stephen Costello. In the appendix interview, Costello elaborates on his approach of the character without preconceived notions. His voice rings with buttery sincerity and gradually unveils religious compassion when befriending harpooner Queequeg. South Pacific islander Johnathan Lemalu (the harpooner) has a pacifying way of exposing alternatives to Christianity in his “Ramadan” aria early on in Act I. One can only help but feel his reverence, kindness and peace aboard the ship. Talise Trevigne fits perfectly into the trouser role of Pip.
Through individual narrations in the addendum DVD, one realizes the tremendous respect and admiration each of the principals have for Jake Heggie. Equally fascinating are the composer’s own thoughts on the subject, and words by librettist Gene Scheer provide interesting literary perspectives especially when both men visited Nantucket personally during the conceptual phases of Moby-Dick.
It is with great hope that this 21st century adventure will be able to gain a foothold in the opera repertoire.