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Creating a whale of an opera


by Olin Chism 16 Jan 2008

Not a note has been written yet, but the creation of Moby-Dick is well under way. That’s the word from composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, who visited Dallas Tuesday as the Dallas Opera announced plans for the inaugural season of the Winspear Opera House. Heggie and Scheer are working on an operatic version […]

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Not a note has been written yet, but the creation of Moby-Dick is well under way. That’s the word from composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, who visited Dallas Tuesday as the Dallas Opera announced plans for the inaugural season of the Winspear Opera House.

Heggie and Scheer are working on an operatic version of Herman Melville’s novel. Their opera will be premiered at the Winspear in the spring of 2010.

“We’re in the process of distilling the novel down to a scenario,” Scheer says. “We’re very near the end of that. We’re just about to start writing the libretto.” That “we” signals that it’s a joint project from the very beginning. Although Heggie’s main task will be composing the music from Scheer’s libretto, “right from the get-go Jake is involved,” Scheer says.

Moby-Dick is Heggie’s and Scheer’s seventh collaboration. Their relationship is amicable, Heggie says. In operatic history, that hasn’t always been the case. For instance, Puccini and his librettists often quarreled bitterly. “We agreed long ago to agree to disagree,” Heggie says. This means they don’t have to tread lightly around each other, phrasing disagreements diplomatically. “Just ‘I disagree,’ or ‘I don’t like that’,” Heggie says. “Or, ‘Your solution is better than mine’,” Scheer adds.

This will be Heggie’s first Dallas project, but Scheer’s work has been heard here before — he collaborated with composer Tobias Picker on Therese Raquin, which was premiered by the Dallas Opera in 2001.

Distilling a literary classic into an opera, with the inevitable cutting, isn’t easy. It will undoubtedly leave Heggie and Scheer open to criticism from those who don’t like how they’ve done it.

“I’m sure there are critics who already hate it — and it hasn’t been written yet,” Heggie said with a laugh.

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