Moby-Dick at San Diego Opera
February 19, 2012
* Notes *
The West Coast premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick (Act I pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) was given by San Diego Opera last night. This production was first seen two years ago at Dallas Opera, and has also had runs at the State Opera of South Australia in Adelaide and Calgary Opera. The opening performance in San Diego was impressive. Gene Scheer's libretto is paced well, skillfully arranged and rather more spare than Melville's novel. Heggie's music is also adroit, the ensembles and choruses sounded particularly lovely. Robert Brill's sets are cleverly enhanced by lighting designed by Donald Holder (revived here by Gavin Swift) and projections designed by Elaine J. McCarthy (revived here by Shawn Boyle). Only a couple of the visuals were awkward, specifically the flying harpoon ropes and splintering whale boats. However, director Leonard Foglia pulled together this opera as a coherent, vital work, without being mawkish.
The orchestra was lead by Joseph Mechavich, who also conducted this opera in Calgary. The 63 musicians crowded in the pit produced a lot of sound, occasionally overwhelming the singers. The chorus seemed at ease with the music, and the dancing in the second half of Act I was surprisingly good. The rest of the singing was likewise fine, Robert Orth (Stubb) had a hearty duet in Act I with Talise Trevigne (Pip). Trevigne's subsequent aria when lost at sea was splendid and as the highest voice in the opera, was both striking and haunting. Jonathan Boyd was the wide-eyed Greenhorn, he seemed momentarily strained in the beginning of Act I, but sang nicely for the rest of the evening. Jonathan Lemalu sang Queequeg with a certain dry quality, his duets with Boyd were balanced. Morgan Smith portrayed Starbuck beautifully, with sensitivity and humaneness. Ben Heppner made a grimly determined Captain Ahab, the effort in his voice seemed tangible, which was effective for this role.
* Tattling *
A cellular phone rang on the right side of the orchestra level during Act I. There was a lot of talking between a child in Row P Seat 46 and her guardian in Seat 44, but they were silent after being hushed. The child must have switched seats with someone, as she did not return for the second half. There was also much talking during Pip's aria in Act I from the couple in Row N Seats 42 and 44, rather unfortunate given how beautiful it was, and how lightly orchestrated.