Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, Starring Tenor Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab
On April 30, The Dallas Opera presents the world premiere of Moby-Dick by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, based on Herman Melville’s iconic American novel of 1851. Tenor Ben Heppner stars as Captain Ahab.
Jake Heggie has said that Melville’s book is not only operatic in scope: music virtually rises from its pages. “There is so much music with the sea and the wind and that sort of universe that Melville created, the ship floating on the ocean just as the planet floats on the universe. There were bells on the whaling ships, the whales themselves made very percussive noises.” As he and Scheer worked to distill a huge, classic book into a two-act, three-hour operatic story, the composer felt “the musical world reveal itself” with grand orchestration and a 40-voice men’s chorus.
The six-performance premiere of Moby-Dick, to run from April 30 to May 16, will star Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab. The Canadian tenor is one of today’s foremost exponents of such heroic roles as Wagner’s Tristan, Lohengrin, and Walther, Beethoven’s Florestan, Verdi’s Otello, and Tchaikovsky’s Ghermann, and has been acclaimed for portraying them from New York’s Metropolitan Opera to the greatest stages of London, Berlin, Paris, Milan, and Madrid. Also in the cast are up-and-coming baritone Morgan Smith (Starbuck) and tenor Stephen Costello (Greenhorn), winner of the 2009 Richard Tucker Award.
Patrick Summers, music director of Houston Grand Opera, will conduct the premiere run of Moby-Dick. This is the fourth Jake Heggie opera premiere to be shepherded by Summers, following Dead Man Walking, The End of the Affair, and Three Decembers (Last Acts). Dead Man Walking has been performed more than 125 times since its 2000 San Francisco premiere, making it one of the most popular of recent American operas.
Four companies joined with The Dallas Opera to co-commission and co-produce Moby-Dick: the San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera, and the State Opera of South Australia. Following the Dallas premiere, Moby-Dick will be presented by the co-producing companies over the next three years.
Librettist Gene Scheer is a frequent collaborator with Jake Heggie, having penned the libretto for Three Decembers and the lyric drama To Hell and Back, as well as the words for two song cycles and a chamber work by the composer. Scheer also wrote the libretti for Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy (premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005) and Thérèse Raquin (first performed at The Dallas Opera in 2001).
Moby-Dick is staged by Leonard Foglia, the Tony-nominated director of Thurgood and Master Class. The scenic designer is two-time Tony Award-nominee Robert Brill, who has also designed for operas from Berg’s to Puccini’s in San Diego, Chicago, and Minnesota. Costume design is by Jane Greenwood (nominated a record 15 times for the Tony Award), with lighting design by Tony-winner Donald Holder.
The cast of Moby-Dick also features bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu (“Queequeg”), tenor Matthew O’Neill (“Flask”), baritone Robert Orth in his Dallas Opera debut (“Stubb”), and two more newcomers to the company: soprano Talise Trevigne (the lone woman in the cast, in the trouser role of “Pip”) and baritone Jonathan Beyer (“Captain Gardiner”).