Thursday, May 13, 2010

“Triumphal Roar” Greets Dallas Opera Premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick

Nation’s Critics Join Audiences in Extending Warm Welcome to New Winspear Opera House’s First World Premiere, and Production Is Called “A Game-Changer”

“Ben Heppner simply is Captain Ahab” – Dallas Morning News

The Washington Post captured the impact of The Dallas Opera’s premiere of Moby-Dick by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer on April 30:

“While new work is often seen by audiences as more a duty than a pleasure, 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 nation’s top media outlets gathered in Dallas for the first world premiere to be held at The Dallas Opera’s new home, the Winspear Opera House, which will host Moby-Dick through May 16. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Heggie’s opera was an undeniable success: the end of its maiden voyage was greeted with a sustained, rousing ovation, with shredded programs fluttering down from the highest seating level. The strongest response was reserved for Mr. Heggie and Mr. Scheer, received at the end with a triumphal roar.”

The Associated Press confirmed that the opening night’s performance was “achingly beautiful, magnificently sung, and gorgeously staged…[:] the highlight of the first season at the sparkling new Winspear Opera House.”

Hometown critic Scott Cantrell, of the Dallas Morning News, led the universal praise of the tenor starring as Herman Melville’s iconic Captain Ahab: “Ben Heppner simply is Ahab. Hobbling heavily on his peg leg, he exudes both macho charisma and hints of schizophrenia. And he sings a role of Wagnerian heft with a beefy tenor of many colors and textures, and strikingly clear diction.” The Associated Press lauded the emotional force of Heppner’s performance: “His Ahab is every bit as tragic as Lohengrin, Tristan, Otello, and Ghermann, some of the roles that made him famous.”

The Wall Street Journal described the entire cast as “splendid,” while singling out Stephen Costello: “The excellent young lyric tenor singing Greenhorn got several fine showpieces, particularly his Act II musing on Ahab, ‘Human madness is a cunning and most feline thing.’”

Musical America applauded the production by Leonard Foglia, with its sets by Robert Brill, costumes by Jane Greenwood, lighting by Donald Holder, and projections by Elaine J. McCarthy: “Foglia’s production emerges as an operatic game-changer. Largely through the use of state-of-the art projections, Foglia renders the visceral power of whale hunts and other aspects of life at sea with a realism that would have been difficult to achieve via traditional stagecraft.”

With Moby-Dick, Heggie and Scheer distilled Melville’s vast book into a two-act, three-hour operatic event, brought to life with grand orchestration and a 40-voice men’s chorus. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “The powerfully and emotionally irresistible new work 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.”

Of Heggie’s score, Cantrell wrote, “Heggie composes vocal lines that illumine words and emotions… . His orchestral and choral writing are fine-tuned to the drama and often beautiful. He achieves lushness with often complex harmonies and counterpoints.” The Associated Press noted the conducting of Patrick Summers, the Music Director of Houston Grand Opera who also premiered three previous Heggie operas: Dead Man Walking, The End of the Affair, and Three Decembers (Last Acts). The AP said that Summers conducted “with such insight into the ebbs and flows, it seemed he had been studying this score for far longer than it has existed.”

The Financial Times was at the Winspear, too, declaring, “The score boasts striking melodies, vivid atmospheric scenes… . Moby-Dick makes for an absorbing night at the opera.” And Musical America summed it up: “Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking (2000) found many fans. Moby-Dick could have similar, or even greater, success.”

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