Press Room

The Dallas Opera triumphs with premiere of Heggie’s Moby-Dick

DALLAS – 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.”

Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie

(World premiere)
April 30; May 2(m), 5, 8, 13, & 16(m)

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), Matthew O’Neill (Flask), Robert Orth (Stubb), Talise Trevigne (Pip), and Jonathan Beyer (Captain Gardiner)

Jake Heggie, composer and pianist

Jake Heggie is the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking (libretto: Terrence McNally), Three Decembers (Last Acts) (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.  His opera based on Melville’s Moby-Dick (libretto: Scheer) was co-commissioned by The Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera, and the State Opera of South Australia.  Premiering on April 30, 2010, as part of the inaugural season in The Dallas Opera’s new Winspear Opera House, the initial production of Moby-Dick stars tenor Ben Heppner as Ahab and is conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by Leonard Foglia.

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 and Gone, Rise and Fall, Songs and 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 2005-06 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and has been composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Opera, Eos Orchestra, and Bravo!-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 from 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; their first opera, Thérèse Raquin, premiered at The Dallas Opera in November 2001.  Thérèse Raquin was subsequently performed in Montreal (in 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 Thérèse Raquin opened at London’s Covent Garden in the Linbury Studio Theatre.

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 on PBS in 2007.  “American Anthem”, first performed by Denyce Graves for President and Mrs. Clinton at the Smithsonian Institution, has been recorded both by Graves (on RCA) and by Nathan Gunn (on 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. (under Leonard Slatkin) and the National Arts Symphony of Canada.

For further information, check the calendar listings at

For high-resolution digital photographs suitable for print, to arrange an interview, or for additional information, please contact Suzanne Calvin, Associate Director of Marketing, on (214) 443-1014 or [email protected].


Ticket information for the 2009-10 Dallas Opera season

Single tickets: $15 to $199, if purchased in advance.

Group ticket sales at a substantial discount.

For more information, contact The Dallas Opera Ticket Services Office at (214) 443-1000 or visit The Dallas Opera’s web site at

# # #

© 21C Media Group, May 2010

Return to Press Room