Imagine that we lived during the time of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Wagner, and the other great composers of the classical repertoire and we could hear them share their thoughts and feelings during the final rehearsals of their operas before opening night. Thanks to today’s technology, we have the opportunity to hear composers, directors, artists and production team members share their thoughts about new operas being created right now.
I am a volunteer Community Educator for LA Opera, traveling through Southern California talking opera to civic and social organizations, philanthropic groups, and schools. One of the best parts of volunteering is that we get to do our own research and write our own talks about Opera. For the company’s current production, Moby-Dick, I thoroughly enjoyed learning not only about Melville’s classic (did you know that American artist Rockwell Kent designed cover images for the 1930 edition of the novel?), but also learning more about Jake Heggie’s adaptation. Heggie is a young contemporary American composer who has created a great new opera based on the book that has been praised as “the great American novel”—no simple task. He has given many interviews describing his approach to presenting the story in operatic form, and many are available on-line. In Heggie’s interviews, he explains the choices he made in composing music for the various parts of the story, the arc of the music from the start of the first act to the dramatic conclusion of the opera, the music he chose to create for each of the main characters, and other insights into the work.
Many opera lovers today approach contemporary opera with trepidation, preferring the familiar stories and music from operas they have been exposed to for years. The resources now available on the internet can help make contemporary opera more approachable, by providing insight into new operas by the composers, directors, and performers into the music. LA Opera’s current production of Heggie’s Moby-Dick offers you a chance to see a great production of an epic American opera, and the internet can provide you with a wealth of information you can review before you head to the opera house to enhance your experience.
Get a head start and check out this collection of articles before seeing the opera:
Ship Anatomy: Moby-Dick Edition – via LA Opera Blog
Recreating a ship on stage can take many forms. A ship can be represented by actors physically moving their bodies to form a boat on stage, or it can be a giant prop that the story’s action revolves around. An image of a ship can even be projected on a scrim on stage to represent what’s not physically on stage. In Robert Brill’s grand set design for Moby-Dick, the ship consumes the entire stage. The Pequod, as the whaling ship is called, can be seen from various sides depending on the act and there are multiple parts to make this ship seem very real to singers and audience members alike.
Jake Heggie, The Man Behind Moby-Dick
Composer Jake Heggie Brings Moby-Dick to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – via Los Angeles Magazine
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the classic tale of one man’s pursuit of an elusive white whale, has over the years been turned into films and television miniseries. Now, it has been turned into an opera. Jake Heggie, whose Dead Man Walking was performed earlier this year at the Broad Stage, is the composer of the show, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Jake Heggie on Why Opera Is Here to Stay – via Los Angeles Times
Don’t tell Jake Heggie that opera is a dying art form. The composer of the opera Dead Man Walking “thinks it’s alive and kicking — he even uses an unprintable term to describe a recent batch of articles declaring that “Opera is dead.” And while his passionate words in defense of the operatic form are convincing, the trajectory of his own career is perhaps his best argument.
Bill Green has been a volunteer Community Educator at LA Opera for seven years. Prior to his retirement, he served as Manager of the Spitzer Science Center and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech.