Composer Jake Heggie at the piano with Patrick Summers conducting the workshop.
Tenor Allan Glassman and six outstanding young singers bring the libretto to life.
Gene Scheer, Leonard Foglia, Robert Brill and Jonathan Pell enjoy opening comments by Jake Heggie.
Robert Brill and Leonard Foglia share ideas as they listen intently to the interplay.
Leonard Foglia consults librettist Gene Scheer’s copy of Moby-Dick, as Gene takes notes.
Stage Director Leonard Foglia and Scenic Designer Robert Brill discuss ways to get a whale on stage.
Jake Heggie discusses details with Jonathan Pell, as Gene Scheer looks on.
Patrick Summers is always Jake's first choice to conduct his new works.
A View From Behind the Lens
By Karen Almond, TDO Production Photographer
The second week of August I had the unique assignment from the Dallas Opera to document an unpublicized workshop about to take place in San Francisco. Moby-Dick, the new opera scheduled for its world premiere at the Winspear on April 30, 2010, was being hatched in its final form. The workshop brought together all the major players required to produce a new work, starting with Jake Heggie (the composer) and Gene Scheer (the librettist). Patrick Summers, who will conduct the world premiere; Leonard Foglia, the stage director; and Robert Brill the set designer were all in attendance co-creating, in a sense, as Heggie's score was brought to life by a cast including Allan Glassman and six singers from the Young Artists program at the San Francisco Opera.
The drama unfolding in that rehearsal hall was underscored by the tattered cover and dog-eared pages of Gene's personal copy of the novel Moby-Dick, which lay open on his working copy of the score. Condensing an epic novel into a compelling dialogue between a scrappy bunch of sailors is an amazing accomplishment. As Gene finished parts of the libretto, he would send a copy to Jake, who meshed the words with the music he was composing. Sometimes it was a natural fit, and sometimes, not so much.... at which point, Jake would send his ideas back to Gene for the revisions necessary to make the words and the music work together. Many months of back-and-forth collaboration ensued before the new work was ready to be work-shopped.
Jake and Gene had a finished score and libretto ready to be brought to life in a bare room with two pianos, and seven voices under Patrick's baton. Several days of intense revisions took place, which Jake candidly admitted was a painstaking process. Sections he had spent days writing occasionally had to be cut, “for the good of the whole.” It was amazing to observe the creative process on this scale. They had cut the first act from 1:35 to 1:20, and the second act ran an hour. Not bad for a 600-page novel!
As I listened that first afternoon, I was struck by the fact that this beautifully melodic score had yet to be orchestrated. I could not imagine which instruments would be playing which part on opening night. Jake commented that the orchestration would be easy enough – obviously, it was already worked out in his mind. I couldn't begin to guess what thoughts were running through the minds and imaginations of Leonard Foglia and Robert Brill as they listened intently, with their heads inclined toward each other, quietly exchanging impressions and ideas. I was witnessing the birth of an opera on so many different levels. The respect among the principal participants was obvious. There was an atmosphere of both exhilaration and relief at reaching their immediate goal of a finished score, along with a definite sense of excitement about what the future holds.
The culmination of the workshop was the very first performance of Moby-Dick from start to finish. There were no breaks at all, except for an intermission between the acts. The privileged few in attendance included Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Marketing Director Jennifer Schuder, and Cody Rubio from TDO, along with representatives from San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera and Calgary Opera. Also on hand to witness this extraordinary scene was an arts reporter from the Wall Street Journal. The enthusiasm of the audience was palpable. Not only is the score dramatic and majestic, as one would expect, but the work is also full of truly moving melodies and dialogue that are both touching and profound. Dallas is in for an incredible experience: a brilliant new opera presented in a brand-new world class venue. Prepare to be hooked!