Friday, April 26, 2019

REVIEW: THE CHICAGO PREMIERE OF CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED “MOBY-DICK” VIA CHICAGO OPERA THEATER

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CHICAGO OPERA THEATER PRESENTS THE CHICAGO PREMIERE OF CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED 
“MOBY-DICK” 
APRIL 25 AND 28 AT THE 
HARRIS THEATER FOR MUSIC AND DANCE


Photo Credit for all: Michael Brosilow


Guest Review:
by catherine hellmann

“Call me Ishmael.” As a grad student, those familiar words once filled me with dread, but now I am amused.



As Mark Twain noted, a “classic” is “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Sums up my relationship with the 585-page tome. I can brag that I did actually read the entire novel, since it was required, while at Miami University. My father is the only person I know who read Moby Dick for fun. He was kind of an intellectual lunatic…

A common understanding when lovers of literature see a movie-based-on-a-book is,”The book was so much better.” For Moby Dick, the opera is sooooo much better!



Chicago audiences have one more opportunity to catch the Great White Whale (catchy, huh?) on Sunday April 28 at 3:00 at the Harris Theater on the edge of Millennium Park. It is a shame that COT does not offer more showings to give Chicagoans a longer opportunity to land this giant fish tale (and yes, I acknowledge that a whale is a mammal, not a fish...)



Chicago Opera Theater continues to impress with their season of non-standard performances. If you have had season tickets at Lyric and wonder why you must endure yet another damn Wagner marathon, please give Chicago Opera Theater a chance. They are doing exciting, unusual musical productions that you haven’t seen before. Moby Dick continues COT’s style of presenting a Chicago premiere. From their press release, “Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s grand American epic arrives in Chicago on the heels of critically acclaimed performances in Utah, Pittsburgh, and San Jose. Based on Herman Melville’s magnum opus, the opera brings the perilous adventures of the Pequod to the stage. Captain Ahab gathers a crew on his quest for revenge on the legendary whale that cost him a leg.”


Captain Ahab’s peg leg costume is ingenious; we both did double takes, wondering how that clever visual trickery was maneuvered. At Richard Cox’s curtain call, the fake leg had been removed, and he bemusedly tapped his normal leg. It was a lovely moment of levity after an intense performance.  





The set seemed promising, especially the map projected on the walls. The back walls open up like a giant window for us to see sailors on the deck and the stars. But my daughter pointed out that we could not see the singers on the mast from our angle in the balcony, “just singing legs,” which was frustrating. I had also hoped for an impressive sighting of the great white whale through those windows to convey the massive size of the beast, but was kind of disappointed by the lackluster reveal when M.D. is finally sighted. The costumes, by Jessica Jahn, are terrific, and the men’s chorus is truly one of the highlights of the show. Their offstage singing is simply gorgeous.


Also of special note is Baritone Andrew Bidlack as Greenhorn. He and Starbuck, played by Aleksey Bogdanov, possess beautiful voices and stage presences. First Mate Starbuck sings longingly for his wife and son back home, which is a tender moment against the lonely backdrop of the sea. Starbuck has a very revealing scene with the maniacal Ahab; he is the only crew member with the courage to contradict their obsessed boss and encourage him to turn the Pequod back to port. For his level-headedness, Ahab threatens to kill Starbuck, showing the single-mindedness of Ahab “going after that stupid whale.” (teen girl comment)  Starbuck, fearfully, sings,”Now all of us are Ahabs.”

This voyage will not end well.


If you’d like to know more about the industry of whaling and the real-life inspiration for Moby Dick, I highly recommend In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It reads like a novel and offers a fascinating history lesson about Nantucket, the tenacity of sailors, and the importance of whaling in the 1800’s. The book is classic, but not a classic, for it is one you will enjoy reading.

Catherine Hellmann grew up in Cincinnati when Jerry Springer was the mayor, which probably skewed her view of life. Chicago theaters and Wrigley Field are her happy places.



Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Adaptation of Herman Melville’s American Epic to be Conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya and Directed by Kristine McIntyre 

“Moby-Dick” is sung in English (with English supertitles) and 
runs 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Chicago Opera Theater (COT) caps its 2018/2019 season with the Chicago premiere of “Moby-Dick,” an epic adaptation of Herman Melville’s 1851 classic “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph Street) Thursday, April 25 and Sunday, April 28. The production is co-produced by Utah Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, San Jose Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu.

This grand American epic, featuring music by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Gene Scheer arrives in Chicago on the heels of critically acclaimed performances in Utah, Pittsburgh and San Jose. The production is conducted by Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya and directed by Kristine McIntyre. The design team includes David Jaques (Lighting), Erhard Rom (Sets) and Jessica Jahn (Costumes.) 





“‘Moby-Dick’ is a stunning work of extraordinarily powerful music and gripping storytelling,” said Yankovskaya. “Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have drawn from the most compelling and dramatic passages of Melville’s epic, crafting a deft adaptation that has thrilled audiences across the globe. We’re proud to be bringing this important American opera to Chicago audiences for the first time.”

The opera focuses on the perilous adventures of the whaling ship Pequod, as Captain Ahab gathers a crew on his quest for revenge on the legendary whale that cost him a leg. Featuring a cast of more than 50 singers, including acclaimed American tenor Richard Cox as Captain Ahab and Russian-American baritone Aleksey Bogdanov as Starbuck, the spectacular production was hailed as “a stunning achievement… imposing, monumental, goose bump-inducing orchestral and choral writing” by Opera Today and “a modern masterpiece” by OperaWire. Other principal singers include Vince Wallace (Queequeg), Andrew Bidlack (Greenhorn), Summer Hassan (Pip), Aaron Short (Flask), Christopher Magiera (Captain Gardiner) and David Govertsen (Stubb). The chorus features more than 30 male voices. For more information on the cast, click here.

“Moby-Dick” will be performed Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 25 at 3 p.m.  at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street. Tickets, which range in price from $45-$145, are available now on the Chicago Opera Theater website or by calling (312) 704-8420.



About Chicago Opera Theater
Chicago Opera Theater (COT) is a nationally recognized opera company based in Chicago, now in its 46th season. COT expands the tradition of opera as a living art form, with an emphasis on Chicago premieres, including new contemporary operas for a 21st century audience.

In addition to its programmed mainstage season, COT is devoted to the development and production of new opera in the United States through the Vanguard Initiative, launched in the Spring of 2018. The Vanguard Initiative mentors emerging opera composers, invests time and talent in new opera at various stages of the creative process and presents the Living Opera Series to showcase new and developing work.

Since its founding in 1973 by Alan Stone, COT has staged more than 125 operas, including over 65 Chicago premieres and more than 35 operas by American composers.

COT is led by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Ashley Magnus and Orli and Bill Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya. As of fall 2018, Maestro Yankovskaya is the only woman with the title Music Director at any of the top 50 opera companies in the United States. COT currently performs at the Studebaker Theater (Michigan & Congress) and the Harris Theater for Music & Dance (Michigan & Randolph).

For more information on the Chicago Opera Theater and its programs please visit chicagooperatheater.org.


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