Composer Jake Heggie has been in town for a few days, meeting with arts patrons, accompanying mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade in a private concert and getting his first look at the new Winspear Opera House, where his opera Moby-Dick will receive its premiere in April.
In a meeting with local media people on Tuesday, Heggie brought them up to date on his progress with the new work, which he’s writing for the Dallas Opera. He says he’s now in the process of orchestrating Moby-Dick and expects to have it completed in January. “All the singers have their music, the chorus has all their scores, and Patrick Summers [the conductor] has a piano score,” Heggie said. “I’m working with Ben Heppner on Thursday this week in New York.” Heppner will sing Captain Ahab in the Dallas premiere.
Heggie says he’s aiming for “something epic” in his orchestration. He’ll have “a standard big orchestra,” with triple winds, triple brass, four horns, “lots of percussion,” harp, “huge strings” and chorus.
He said that for him (Gene Scheer wrote the libretto) the hardest part of the project was distilling Herman Melville’s huge novel down to a size that would work for opera. He and Scheer settled on eight characters, with small roles within the chorus. The whole opera will take place at sea.
The music was easier, Heggie says. “I never doubted that the music was there, because it’s so operatic in scope, the book is, and there’s so much music with the sea and the wind and that sort of universe that Melville created, floating on the ocean just as the planet floats on the universe. There were bells on whale ships, there was a lot of music on whale ships, there was a lot of percussion, the whales themselves made very percussive noises. To me the musical world would reveal itself if we had the right story.”
Heggie says the opera is in two acts with one intermission and will take a little less than three hours to perform. Rehearsals will begin at the end of March, the first orchestral reading will be about two weeks later, and the premiere will be on April 30, with five performances to follow.