Sunday, May 02, 2010

Fears Come True

Brian at Out West Arts went to Texas for the premier of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's Moby-Dick. Here's the most important paragraph of his review:
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is Heggie’s music. It can be lyrical at times, but it is unwaveringly the same throughout, regardless of the emotional or narrative content of scenes. It is often two-dimensional and misses opportunities to communicate directly to the audience at nearly every turn. It sometimes felt that you could swap out the music for any scene with any other scene and one would hardly know the difference. Oh, there is the predictable storm music, and the speed picks up a bit when the whale arrives, but there is little in the music that would ever suggest the sea. Moby-Dick has water, water everywhere, but not a drop to hear.
This sounds just like what little I remember of Dead Man Walking, where the best music was in Frederica von Stade's aria and a spiritual sung by Susan Graham written by someone other than Heggie. I like what I've heard of Heggie's songs, but I just don't understand why he gets opera commissions. His music is too anonymous, too undramatic, too ordinary for setting the extraordinary.

Update:Steve Smith, writing in the Times, was more positive, though he hints that the music has a few misses.


Dr.B said...

Dead man was great theater, mediocre music. At least it had women singing.

Lisa Hirsch said...

There's a pants role in Moby-Dick, even!

Joe Barron said...

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is Heggie’s music.

This is of a piece with what I've been saying about American opera for a while: A lot of it is just endless recit with no highlights. I'm also skeptical of the trend of taking great American books and turning them into mediocre theater. What makes Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby great is the authors' way with the story. Switch the medium, get rid of the memorable prose, and the very reason we love these books is lost. It would take some great music to substitute for Melville, and there's very little great music around these days.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I don't believe using great or even good literature is the problem: think of the sources of Verdi's libretti, which included Schiller, Shakespeare, and Victor Hugo.