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The Dallas Opera premieres Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick

The first world premiere at the new Winspear Opera House here will be an epic event: The Dallas Opera’s spring production 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 isn’t 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, acclaimed in these portrayals from New York’s Metropolitan Opera to the greatest stages in 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. It’s 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 a three-year period.

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 operas from Berg to Puccini 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 Allan Glassman (“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”).

The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts opened to plaudits in October 2009 with a Dallas Opera production of Verdi’s Otello. Jonathan Pell, artistic director of the Dallas Opera, told the Dallas Morning News: “The move into the Winspear Opera House represents a major milestone in the history of the Dallas Opera. For the first time, we will be performing in a purpose-built opera house, with an extraordinary sense of intimacy and superb acoustics. . . It will encourage the company to greater heights.”

Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie

(World premiere)

April 30, May 2(m), 5, 8, 13 & 16(m), 2010

An opera in two acts

Text by Gene Sheer after Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick

A new Dallas Opera co-commission/co-production with San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera and the State Opera of South Australia

Conductor: Patrick Summers

Stage director: Leonard Foglia

Scenic design: Robert Brill

Costume design: Jane Greenwood

Lighting design: Donald Holder

Wig & make-up design: David Zimmerman

Chorus master: Alexander Rom

Starring: Ben Heppner (Captain Ahab), Morgan Smith (Starbuck) Stephen Costello (Greenhorn), Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), Allan Glassman (Flask), Robert Orth (Stubb), Talise Trevigne (Pip) and Jonathan Beyer (Captain Gardiner).

Jake Heggie, composer & pianist

Jake Heggie is the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking (libretto: Terrence McNally), Three Decembers (libretto: Gene Scheer), The End of the Affair (libretto: Heather McDonald), To Hell and Back (libretto: Scheer) and At the Statue of Venus (libretto: McNally), as well as more than 200 art songs, plus orchestral and chamber music.

Heggie’s stage works have been performed by more than a dozen American companies, including San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Ft. Worth Opera, Austin Lyric Opera and Madison Opera. They have also been featured in international productions in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Austria and South Australia. Dead Man Walking has been performed more than 125 times since its San Francisco premiere in 2000, making it one of the most performed new American operas. The composer’s numerous songs and cycles — including The Deepest Desire, Statuesque, Here & Gone, Rise & Fall, Songs & Sonnets to Ophelia, Facing Forward/Looking Back, Friendly Persuasions and Songs to the Moon — are featured in recitals around the world.

As a composer and pianist, Heggie has collaborated with such singers as sopranos Emily Albrink, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Kristin Clayton, Renée Fleming, Nicolle Foland, Audra McDonald, Leah Partridge, Emily Pulley and Kiri Te Kanawa; mezzos Zheng Cao, Joyce Castle, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Kristine Jepson and Frederica von Stade; Broadway soprano Patti LuPone; tenors Paul Groves, Ben Heppner and Nicholas Phan; and baritones Philip Cutlip, Thomas Hampson, Daniel Okulitch, Keith Phares, Morgan Smith and Bryn Terfel.

Future Heggie projects include a flute concerto for Carol Wincenc; a song cycle for mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato with the Alexander String Quartet for San Francisco Performances; a short group of songs for DiDonato’s 2011 Carnegie Hall recital debut, commissioned by Carnegie Hall; and an expanded version of his lyric drama For a Look or a Touch, for the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus.

Recordings of Heggie’s works include Dead Man Walking (Erato), Three Decembers (Albany), Flesh and Stone (Americus), To Hell and Back (Magnatune), The Faces of Love (RCA Red Seal), The Deepest Desire (Eloquentia) and For a Look or a Touch (Naxos). Heggie received a 2005/2006 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and has been composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Opera, Eos Orchestra and Vail Valley Music Festival. As a coach and teacher, he has given classes at universities throughout the United States, as well as at summer festivals. Jake Heggie lives in San Francisco. For more information, go to

Gene Scheer, librettist

The work of lyricist, librettist and composer Gene Scheer is noted for its scope and versatility, his music and lyrics having gained enthusiastic admirers among a broad audience. Scheer has collaborated on several projects with Jake Heggie, including the 2008 world premiere of Three Decembers, the 2006 one-act opera To Hell and Back, song cycles Statuesque and Rise and Fall, and a chamber work, For a Look or a Touch.  In 2005, Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera. This was Scheer’s second collaboration with Picker, with their first opera, Therese Raquin, premiered at the Dallas Opera in November 2001. Therese Raquin was subsequently performed in Montreal (in a French translation) and in San Diego. The recording, available on Chandos, was cited by Opera News as one of the ten best recordings of 2002. In March 2006, a new production of Therese Raquin opened at Covent Garden in the Linbury Theater.

Since Scheer introduced his compositions just a few years ago, his songs have been performed by such artists as Renée Fleming (with Christoph Eschenbach), Denyce Graves, Sylvia Mcnair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore and Nathan Gunn. Distinguished documentarian Ken Burns featured Norah Jones singing Scheer’s song “American Anthem” in The War, a critically acclaimed seven-part series about World War II that aired in 2007 on PBS. “American Anthem”, first performed by Denyce Graves for President and Mrs. Clinton at the Smithsonian Institute, has been recorded both by Graves (on RCA) and by Nathan Gunn (EMI).  Graves included Scheer’s “Christmas Once More” on her nationally televised PBS Christmas Special and has performed a number of Scheer’s songs with orchestras, including the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. (with Leonard Slatkin) and the National Arts Symphony of Canada.


The Dallas Opera’s 2009-10 season

Così fan tutte by W.A. Mozart
February 12, 14(m), 18, 20, 26 & 28(m), 2010
Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
February 19, 21(m), 24, 27, March 5 & 7(m), 2010
Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie (world premiere)
April 30, May 2(m), 5, 8, 13 & 16(m), 2010
Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
May 7, 9(m), 12, 15, 20 & 23(m), 2010


The Dallas Opera is supported, in part, by funds from:  City of Dallas, Office of Cultural Affairs; TACA; the Texas Commission on the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  The Dallas Opera would like to thank its 2008-2009 production underwriters, including: Marten S. Klop and Dr. and Mrs. Tom G. Mayer.  American Airlines is the official airline of The Dallas Opera.  Pianos provided by Steinway Hall, Dallas/Ft. Worth/Plano.  Advertising support from The Dallas Morning News.  A special thanks to the Elsa von Seggern Foundation for its continuing support.


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© 21C Media Group, December 2009


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