In Review: McIntyre and Habersham in Opera San Jose's "Moby Dick"

"When we last encountered Moby-Dick in operatic form, this magnum opus from composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer was embodied in the San Francisco Opera’s sweeping, majestic 2012 production. It was, among other things, a tour de force of stagecraft and visual design, which somehow managed to evoke the great watery vistas of Melville’s novel. So when Moby-Dick was announced as part of the current season by Opera San José one of the first questions was whether the magic of that epic reach could be replicated on a more modest scale. The answer, revealed during the predominantly successful opening-night performance on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the California Theatre, was that it absolutely can — and in ways that reveal a lot about the greatness of this resourceful and beautiful work… For this production, director Kristine McIntyre and set designer Erhard Rom have created a world in which the close quarters of the Pequod register with almost claustrophobic intimacy. The whaling ship consists of one deck and a single mast, with a base that can swivel to impersonate one of the small, fragile boats in which the men cast off to hunt their prey. A pair of matching maps — stars above, the world below — serves as a backdrop, which is just enough to convey the hugeness of the setting. Yet within that enormous world there are personal interactions playing out, which is what the San Jose production — led with tenderness and power by the company’s music director and principal conductor, Joseph Marcheso — gets memorably right…

The cabin-boy Pip, whose assignment to a soprano provides the only exception to the opera’s all-male cast, got a magnificent performance from Jasmine Habersham, singing with plenty of tonal heft and an air of tragic vivacity. . .

Moby-Dick stood, revealed yet again as a theatrical work of enormous inventiveness, subtlety and insight — by my reckoning, Heggie’s most triumphant creation since his maiden opera, Dead Man Walking. Like that earlier opera, Moby-Dick seems to be well on its way to becoming a repertory staple, and productions like the one at Opera San José reveal why."

-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

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"Director Kristine McIntyre has offered fresh moments in this gripping work, making the production in the beautiful California Theater in San José something to marvel at. McIntyre has limited projections of ocean and whaling, to spin the whole tale not only in the belly of the ship, The Pequod, but also from a centrifugal mast. We see a moving sky that galvanizes the story and opera’s vastness with its shifting constellations and gashes of lightning that appear and disappear from its vortex. Created by Set Designer Erhard Rom, and lit by Lighting Designer Pamila Z. Gray, it all worked well, especially with integration of the Chorus, performing on-going ship activities. This, in conjunction with the bold narrative confrontations, contributed much to emphasize down-to-earth ship life — e.g., mops and harpoons, jigs and dances, just as Ahab’s willful quest drove the story forward. And so Melville, through McIntyre’s direction of Heggie and Scheer’s vision, thus continued his rightful legacy… Not only did the universality of theme come successfully alive in the McIntyre-Marcheso production, but so did the diversity of person/ethnicity and religious convictions. Opera San José has done justice to this grand opera’s high seriousness and weight. . . Pip, performed with brightness and good dramatic effect by Soprano Jasmine Habersham, was an excellent antithesis to the weight of Ahab and his peg leg; and the weighty thrust of the men in their dark despair." -Lois Silverstein, OperaWire

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