One of America’s most intimidating novels is now one of its most compelling operas.
Utah Opera is presenting the first major reimagining of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s ambitious 2010 opera “Moby-Dick.” The Utah company, pooling creative and financial resources with a handful of others, has built all-new costumes and sets to fit smaller stages — and more modest budgets — all over the world. A full house of opera fans (including Heggie and Scheer) got their first look at this stunning new production at the Capitol Theatre Saturday night.
Erhard Rom’s abstract set design, Jessica Jahn’s exhaustively researched costumes and Kristine McIntyre’s authoritative stage direction pull the audience into the action. McIntyre has made exceptionally intelligent use of the space, onstage and off, and wisely brought in choreographer Daniel Charon and four dancers to assist in the work of the ship. This might be the best use anyone has ever made of the Utah Opera Chorus, expertly prepared by new chorus master Michaella Calzaretta. The men not only sang powerfully but also threw themselves into the choreography’s rigorous physical demands.
The most demanding role, of course, is that of Captain Ahab, obsessed with revenge on the legendary whale that severed his leg. Not only is the music challenging, but tenor Roger Honeywell must sing it with one leg tied behind his back all night. Honeywell’s fierce performance brought Ahab to terrifying life.
Baritone David Adam Moore portrayed first mate Starbuck, the only crew member who challenges Ahab’s mission. His strong singing and perceptive acting made the men’s complicated friendship all the more interesting.
Bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana brought charisma and resonant vocals to the role of the harpooner Queequeg, while tenor Joshua Dennis navigated his deceptively tricky music with skill in the opera’s most relatable role (the novice sailor who, unlike in Herman Melville’s novel, doesn’t ask us to call him Ishmael until the very end — in a moment of operatic genius). Other standouts included soprano Jasmine Habersham as the lively cabin boy Pip, tenor Joseph Gaines and baritone Craig Irvin as sailors Flask and Stubb, and bass-baritone Jesús Vicente Murillo as the captain of a passing ship.
Capping this operatic triumph was the Utah Symphony’s vivid performance of Heggie’s rich score, conducted by Joseph Mechavich.
Sing me Ishmael<br>Utah Opera presents Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s operatic adaptation of “Moby-Dick.” The opera is sung in English, but there will be Supertitles.<br>When • Reviewed Saturday, Jan. 20; plays Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Jan. 22, 24 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Jan. 28<br>Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City<br>Tickets • $15-$100; utahopera.org<br>In a nutshell • A sea captain leads a voyage of revenge against an enormous white whale.<br>Running time • 3 hours, including intermission<br>Learn more • Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson will offer lectures an hour before curtain and artistic director Christopher McBeth will moderate Q&A sessions after each performance, all in the Capitol Room on the theater’s west side. The company also has posted educational materials at utahopera.org/onlinelearning.