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Dallas Opera Commissions New Work from 'Moby-Dick' Composer

by Jerome Weeks 17 Jan 2012 6:30 PM

Composer Jake Heggie continues his long-running ties to North Texas — and this time, he’s bringing renowned mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato with him.


The Heggie Creative Connection with North Texas continues. To open the Dallas Opera’s 2015-16 season, the company is taking a page from its first season at the Winspear Opera House: In 2010, it  opened the new building, as you recall, with the acclaimed world premiere of Moby-Dick by composer Jake Heggie.

Now the Dallas Opera has commissioned a new work, Great Scott, from Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, their first joint effort since Dead Man Walking.

The new commission will practically make North Texas Heggie’s second home: In addition to Moby-Dick, the area has seen the Fort Worth Opera perform Dead Man Walking in 2009, and the same company will present Three Decembers in May. Last year, the Dallas Opera presented a new song cycle of Heggie’s, A Question of Light, while he was an artist-in-residence at the University of North Texas (above) — which also commissioned The ‘Ahab’ Symphony from him, his first symphony. It will premiere next year.

For a story in February last year about his many returns to Texas from his home in San Francisco, Heggie said: “Frankly, Texas is kind of a second creative, cultural home for me. So to do something at a university and create something new here, it felt very natural.”

Great Scott is based on an original story by McNally and it looks to be an “opera-opera” — an opera more or less about opera. It concerns a famous American singer, Arden Scott, who returns home to star in a new production of a forgotten operatic masterpiece. The opera-within-an-opera in Great Scott is called Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei, and, as McNally is quoted in the press release below, it will be “a grand opera complete with two mad scenes, an erupting volcano, a children’s chorus and corps de ballet.” Can’t ask for much more from an opera.

Great Scott will also feature celebrated, Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in her North Texas debut as Scott (left, in Houston Grand Opera’s Dead Man Walking). And it will be led by the rising young conductor Evan Rogister. Previously, Heggie and DiDonato worked together on his song cycle, The Breaking Waves, which she premiered at Carnegia Hall last year. This year, she will sing the premiere of a new work by the composer, Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, a dramatic scene with the Alexander String Quartet.

On top of all that, the Dallas Opera announced the commission the same day it began its exclusive, limited release of a music CD of excerpts from Moby-Dick, recorded in Dallas with the original cast, including Ben Heppner as Capt. Ahab.

The press release follows:

THE DALLAS OPERA PROUDLY ANNOUNCES A MAJOR NEW COMMISSION: Composer Jake Heggie and Librettist Terrence McNally Team to Create a TDO World Premiere Opera!







Commission Announced During Celebrations Marking the Exclusive, Limited Release of “MOBY-DICK” CD of Excerpts, Recorded in Dallas and Featuring the Acclaimed Original Cast

DALLAS, JANUARY 17, 2012 – The Dallas Opera is delighted and extremely proud to announce the commissioning of a new, full-length opera by acclaimed American composer Jake Heggie (Moby-Dick) and the Tony Award-winning playwright/librettist Terrence McNally (Master Class) in their first joint project since the groundbreaking masterpiece, Dead Man Walking.

The new commission, with generous underwriting support from The Eugene McDermott Foundation and The Hoblitzelle Foundation, is slated to open the Dallas Opera’s 2015-2016 Season Friday, October 30, 2015 in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District.

The new work, GREAT SCOTT, is based on an original story by Mr. McNally and will star legendary American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.  The opera will be conducted by one of the fastest-rising young artists on the podium today: Maestro Evan Rogister.

Composer Jake Heggie was on-hand in Dallas for the on-stage announcement this evening, made by Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny and Artistic Director Jonathan Pell.  The announcement came as the highlight of a special donor event marking the release of a new Dallas Opera Moby-Dick CD of excerpts, recorded live with the critically acclaimed original cast during the exciting 2010 world premiere production.  This CD is now available exclusively to TDO donors and renewing Dallas Opera subscribers (certain restrictions apply).


“In the remarkable wake of Moby-Dick,” explains Jake Heggie, “I am over the moon to return to The Dallas Opera for my next grand opera. And a brave project it is: a big, new American opera based on an original libretto by one of our most honored and beloved playwrights, the great Terrence McNally. This is our first major collaboration since Dead Man Walking back in 2000, and we are ecstatic to work together again.

“GREAT SCOTT promises to challenge, inspire and delight us all, especially as it is being created for one of the most beloved and brilliant opera stars of our time, Joyce DiDonato. The musical and dramatic possibilities have my imagination bubbling over! And once again, I am deeply impressed by the vision, courage, leadership and commitment to bold, new work by the entire Dallas Opera family and community. The creation of a new opera takes the support, participation and enthusiasm of an entire community –and Dallas rallies like no other city I know,” adding, “It’s great to be back.”

Terrence McNally describes the new commission:

“What happens when a famous American singer who has been the subject of a 60 MINUTES profile goes back home to star in a production of a forgotten masterpiece of the bel canto repertory?  Arden Scott belongs to the world now but she is a hometown girl at heart.  She has never looked back until now.  ROSA DOLOROSA, FIGLIA DI POMPEI is her occasion to do so.

ROSA is a grand opera complete with two mad scenes, an erupting volcano, a children’s chorus and corps de ballet,” writes Mr. McNally.  “Every conceivable disaster awaits them.  Will mere human resources be equal to the opera’s inhuman demands?  The rehearsals and performance of ROSA will mirror the upheaval of Arden Scott’s own life.”

“We began talking with Jake about the next possible collaboration during the tremendously successful opening of Moby-Dick,” says Dallas Opera Artistic Director Jonathan Pell.  “It’s very exciting to know that we will be working with Jake again on a major, new project and, in the process, have an opportunity to work with one of America’s greatest playwrights.  Terrence McNally has written many of the most important and influential stage works of the past quarter-century and I can’t wait to see where he—and Jake—take us next.”

Joyce DiDonato, “probably the most in-demand lyric coloratura mezzo in the world” (Opera News), will sing the title role of opera singer Arden Scott.  Most recently, Miss DiDonato triumphed in the Metropolitan Opera world premiere of The Enchanted Island, prompting Anthony Tomassini of The New York Times to write, “She commanded the stage from her first showcase scene…singing with cool control, then bursting into fearless flights of passagework.”

This winter, she will sing the premiere of a new Jake Heggie work, Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, a dramatic scene with the Alexander String Quartet commissioned by San Francisco Performances; she will appear with the New York Philharmonic in performances of Berlioz’ Les nuits d’été in London, New York and Philadelphia; in concert performances of Ariodante throughout Europe with Il complesso barocco; and with the Kansas City Symphony performing a Rossini-Heggie program as part of the Helzberg Hall inaugural season.

Then, later this spring, Miss DiDonato will star in Houston Grand Opera’s new production of Maria Stuarda followed by La Cenerentola at the Bavarian State Opera.  To every program and premiere, Joyce DiDonato brings “the gleaming tone, pellucid projection and smiling warmth for which she is justly celebrated” (Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph).

“We look forward to hearing Joyce DiDonato in the exceptional acoustic of the Winspear Opera House,” says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny, “and experiencing the magic she creates onstage in her performances.  Her extraordinary artistry and accessibility, combined with the unique talents of Jake and Terrence at the peak of their careers, hint at the possibility of something very special—perhaps even unforgettable—when the world premiere of GREAT SCOTT opens the season in 2015.

“We are also thrilled at the prospect of seeing one of the conducting world’s brightest new stars leading the cast, chorus and orchestra into bold, new territory.”

All five performances will be conducted by Maestro Evan Rogister, a critically acclaimed young conductor who recently finished a two-year stint as Kapellmeister at Deutsche Oper Berlin under music director Donald Runnicles.  His U.S. operatic debut took place at the Houston Grand Opera with performances of Hänsel und Gretel and later La bohème while serving as a conducting fellow in a position created for him by HGO Music Director Patrick Summers. 

In 2009, Mr. Rogister, a dual citizen of Germany and the U.S., made his Seattle Opera debut to great critical acclaim conducting the renowned Robert Lepage production of Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung.  Later this season, he will make his Royal Swedish Opera debut conducting a new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

The stage director and design team for GREAT SCOTT, as well as additional members of the cast, will be announced at a later date.

Following the October 30, 2015 world premiere—the Linda and Mitch Hart Season Opening Night Performance at the Dallas Opera—additional performances of GREAT SCOTT are scheduled to take place on the Shannon and Ted Skokos Stage in the Winspear Opera House on November 1 (m), 4, 7 & 15 (m), 2015.  As always, Dallas Opera season subscribers will have first access to seats for this exciting new production.

Parking onsite will be available in the Lexus Red Parking beneath the Winspear Opera House and the Lexus Silver Parking adjacent to the Wyly Theatre.  Should those reach capacity, additional paid parking is available at nearby One Arts Plaza and in several surface lots.  Prices range from $5 to $25 per vehicle.


The Moby-Dick CD of excerpts, unveiled this evening in the Winspear Opera House on the very stage where this world premiere production (staged by Leonard Foglia) was recorded in May of 2010, features the work of a stellar international cast that included Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, tenor Stephen Costello, baritone Morgan Smith, New Zealand bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu and soprano Talise Trevigne, and baritone Robert Orth, with the Dallas Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Patrick Summers.  Although never intended for public consumption, demand for an original cast recording of Moby-Dick ultimately prompted the release of this single-disc, archival recording.

“This recording gives you about 45% of the actual two-and-a-half-hour opera, and includes key moments,” writes Jake Heggie in his introduction to the CD.  “We aren’t calling this a CD of highlights, however, because so many other important moments could not be included…As the opera continues its journey to opera houses around the world, there will hopefully be an opportunity to make a complete recording.  But for the time being, here is a glimpse of what happened when MOBY-DICK first took the opera stage in April of 2010.”

The recording will be made available for purchase through the Dallas Opera website at a later time.

“MOBY-DICK was a definite game-changer for the Dallas Opera,” explains General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.  “The company profile was raised significantly by the success of this contemporary masterpiece, immediately recognized as such by both seasoned music critics and occasional opera-goers who, during the curtain calls, reduced their programs to confetti in the highest balconies and let paper rain down upon the house.”

“The potential perception of the Dallas Opera as a company glorying in its illustrious past vanished with the premiere of MOBY-DICK,” Mr. Cerny notes.  “And the momentum created by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s masterful ‘fish-tale’ has attracted world-class artists, conductors and designers to our stage; facilitated vital new collaborations with other arts organizations; and given us the artistic stature to explore a wide range of new creative projects and commissions.”


Three-Performance FLEX subscriptions and single tickets are on sale now (prices and discounts subject to availability) through the Dallas Opera Ticket Services Office at 214.443.1000 or online at  Student Rush best-available tickets are available for $25 (one per valid Student I.D.) at the Winspear box office, ninety minutes prior to each performance.


JAKE HEGGIE (Composer)

Jake Heggie is the American composer of the operas Moby-Dick, Dead Man Walking, Three Decembers, The End of the Affair, To Hell and Back, and the stage works For a Look or a Touch, and At the Statue of Venus.  He has also composed more than 200 art songs, as well as orchestral, choral and chamber music.  Upcoming projects include Camille Claudel: Into the Fire a dramatic scene for Joyce DiDonato and the Alexander String Quartet commissioned by San Francisco Performances; Another Sunrise, a new stage work for soprano Caitlin Lynch, commissioned by Seattle’s Music of Remembrance; songs for baritone Rod Gilfry and a new work for pianist Jon Kimura Parker and violinist Aloysia Friedmann.  Heggie was the 2010/11 guest artist-in-residence at the University of North Texas at Denton.  Part of that residency included the commission of his first symphony, which will receive its premiere in 2013 with tenor Richard Croft as soloist.  Jake Heggie’s operas have been performed to tremendous acclaim internationally in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, South Africa and by more than a dozen American opera companies.  The composer’s numerous songs and cycles are also featured in recitals around the world.  An ardent champion of writers, most of Heggie’s operas and stage works feature libretti written by either Terrence McNally or Gene Scheer.  Heggie was the recipient of a 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 gives classes at universities throughout the United States and at summer festivals such as SongFest in Malibu and the Steans Institute at Ravinia.  Jake Heggie lives in San Francisco.

TERRENCE McNALLY* (Librettist)

Terrence McNally was awarded the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.  He is the winner of Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, as well as his books for the musicals Ragtime and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.  In 2010 the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presented Terrence McNally’s Nights at the Opera, a three-play festival of his work.  His other plays include Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; Corpus Christi; A Perfect Ganesh; The Ritz; It’s Only a Play; Some Men; Golden Age; Deuce; The Lisbon Traviata; Bad Habits; The Stendhal Syndrome; Dedication, or The Stuff of Dreams; Next; Unusual Acts of Devotion; Sweet Eros; Witness; Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? and his first play …And Things that Go Bump in the Night.  Mr. McNally has written the books for the musicals The Full Monty, A Man of No Importance, The Visit and The Rink.  He won an Emmy Award for “Best Drama” with his teleplay Andre’s Mother.  He wrote the screenplays for Frankie and Johnny, Love! Valour! Compassion! and The Ritz.  He wrote the libretto for the opera Dead Man Walking with music by Jake Heggie.  Among his many awards are a Citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, four Drama Desk Awards, three Hull-Warringer “Best Play” awards from the Dramatists Guild, two Obies, two Lortel Awards and two Guggenheim Fellowships.  Mr. McNally has been a member of the Dramatists Guild since 1965 and served as the organization’s Vice-President (1985-2001).  He lives in Manhattan with his spouse, Tom Kirdahy.

EVAN ROGISTER* (Conductor)

Evan Rogister recently finished a two-year stint as Kapellmeister at the Deutsche Oper Berlin under its music director Donald Runnicles.  In Berlin he had particular success with performances of symphonic operas such as Tannhäuser, Rienzi, Otello, and Hänsel und Gretel, in addition to numerous repertoire evenings of La boheme, Carmen, and Die Zauberflöte.  In the 2011-12 season, Rogister returns to the Deutsche Oper as a guest conductor, leading productions of Don Giovanni and Otello.  Later in the season he makes his debut at Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera, with performances of a new production of Lohengrin.  This summer he will lead the first performances by a major American theater of Karol Szymanowski’s 20th century masterpiece King Roger, in a new production for the Santa Fe Opera by acclaimed director (and co-founder of Milwaukee’s Skylight Theater) Stephen Wadsworth.  Future appearances include a return to the Houston Grand Opera for ‘La boheme’ and a debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Rigoletto and Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire with Renee Fleming.  Recent and upcoming orchestral engagements include debuts with the Orchestre National de Montpellier, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, the Bochum Symphoniker and the Prague Chamber Orchestra as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Alabama Symphony.  His U.S. operatic debut took place at the Houston Grand Opera with performances of Hänsel und Gretel and later La boheme while serving as a conducting fellow in a position created for him by music director Patrick Summers.  In 2009, Rogister- a dual citizen of Germany and the US – made his Seattle Opera debut to great critical acclaim conducting the renowned Robert Lepage production of Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung.


“Perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” according to the New Yorker, Joyce DiDonato entrances audiences and critics alike across the globe. With a voice nothing less than 24-carat gold as proclaimed by The Times, DiDonato has soared to international prominence in operas by Rossini, Handel, and Mozart, as well as through her wide-ranging, acclaimed discography.  Born in Kansas and a graduate of Wichita State University and The Academy of Vocal Arts, Joyce DiDonato trained on the young artist programmes of San Francisco, Houston, and Santa Fe opera companies. Her signature parts include the bel canto roles of Rossini, leading the Financial Times to declare of her Elena in La Donna del Lago, “Simply the best singing I’ve heard in years.”  In 2010, DiDonato won the highly prized Artist of the Year at the Gramophone Awards, as well as the Recital of the Year for her album Colbran: Rossini’s Muse. She also collected a German Echo Klassik Award as Female Singer of the Year. Other honours include the Mets Beverly Sills Award, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer of the Year, citations from Operalia, and the Richard Tucker, and George London Foundations.  Last season began with DiDonato’s debut at the Deutsche Oper as Rosina Il barbiere di Siviglia. She then returned to the Teatro Real, Madrid for her first European Octavian Der Rosenkavalier and sang Sister Helen Dead Man Walking at Houston Grand Opera. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera in the spring of 2011 for Isolier Le Comte Ory and Komponist Ariadne auf Naxos, following this with a European tour in the title role of Ariodante with Il complesso barocco, to coincide with the release of her recording of the same opera on Virgin Classics. She triumphed at Covent Garden at the end of the season, in the title role of Massenet’s Cendrillon.  Highlights of the current season include the feat of back-to-back title roles at La Scala, Milan (Der Rosenkavalier and La donna del lago), the world première of the baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera, concerts with the New York Philharmonic in New York and London, and the title role of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at Houston Grand Opera.  An exclusive recording artist with EMI/Virgin Classics, DiDonato’s third EMI/Virgin Classics solo CD, Diva Divo is a collection of arias by male and female characters based on the same story.