Friday night I saw Jake Heggie's operatic version of Moby Dick at SF Opera. It centers on a handful of characters from the novel, presented in short, intimate scenes. The music is pretty & concise & contains a lot of hummable motifs. It seems to be in a mix of styles, from verismo to Philip Glass to contemporary Broadway. Scenes are mostly monologues & duets, so the opera feels chamber-sized. It begins & ends in near silence. The whale is depicted with a tame, Latin-sounding dance rhythm.
The action occurs entirely on the Pequod, clearly represented on stage by rigging, masts & sails, as well as projections of 3D images. The singers are often high above the stage, climbing ladders or perched on footholds ascending the set's sloping back wall. The depiction of sailors in row boats as seen from above was especially convincing. I was disappointed not to see the whale, though.
Most of the principals were from the original Dallas Opera production, & the cast were all dramatically convincing. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris had a believable peg leg as Ahab. He has a gritty yet bright sound & sang athletically & consistently. His Ahab was frightening, outwardly competent as a captain but inwardly deranged. I liked tenor Stephen Costello's beautifully lyrical singing as Ishmael, who is called Greenhorn in the opera. Baritone Morgan Smith was similarly strong & lyrical as Starbuck. Both singers had nice pianissimo moments.
As Queequeg, bass Jonathan Lemalu sang with a thick yet focused voice. Soprano Talise Trevigne was bright & clear as the cabin boy Pip. She sang with ease even while suspended in midair from a wire. Baritone Robert Orth was characterful in the comic role of 2nd mate Stubb. Baritone Joo Won Kang, singing from the pit as an off-stage captain, effortlessly filled the house with his full sound. Conductor Patrick Summers led the orchestra tidily, & I enjoyed hearing gentle solos from the flute, clarinet, violin & trumpet.
Mr. Heggie, along with SF Opera's Kip Cranna, gave the pre-performance talk. Mr. Heggie endearingly shared the story of the opera's creation, highlighting the contributions of his collaborators. We learned that, apart from one false start, Ahab's monologue in act 1 was the 1st scene he composed. Mr. Heggie also took a curtain call at the end of the performance, wearing a Giants hat with a furry orange top. I started the evening in downstairs standing room, but just as the lights went down was given a ticket for a seat.
§ Moby Dick
Music by Jake Heggie & libretto by Gene Scheer
San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Leonard Foglia
Queequeg: Jonathan Lemalu
Greenhorn (Ishmael): Stephen Costello
Flask: Matthew O’Neill
Starbuck: Morgan Smith
Stubb: Robert Orth
Pip: Talise Trevigne
Captain Ahab: Jay Hunter Morris
Tashtego: Carmichael Blankenship
Daggoo: Bradley Kynard
Nantucket Sailor: Chester Pidduck
Spanish Sailor: Anders Froehlich
Capitain Gardiner: Joo Won Kang
Fri 10/26/12 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House