Moby-Dick is an opera based on the classic novel by Herman Melville. Set in 1820, it tells the story of Captain Ahab of the whaleship Pequod, who after losing one of his legs to a frightening white whale, becomes obsessed with finding and destroying the creature at any cost. Only one crew member, first mate Starbuck, realizes the deadly implications of Ahab’s obsession and the risks to the ship’s crew. Since its 2010 debut at the Dallas Opera, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s opera adaption of Melville’s classic novel has captivated audiences with its inventive storytelling, spectacular music, sets and visual effects. Company premiere!
Captain Ahab gazes out to sea in the early morning hours while his crew sleeps below deck. Harpooneer Queequeg, a South Sea Islander, wakens Greenhorn (Ishmael in Melville’s novel) with his praying. “All hands” is sounded and the ship’s sails are raised while first mate Starbuck and third mate Flask discuss the Captain’s enigmatic absences.
The crew sings of whaling and fortunes to be made and Ahab appears to tell them that the real reason for the voyage is to hunt for Moby-Dick, the white whale that severed his leg. He commands that no whales are to be taken until Moby-Dick is sighted, and nails a gold coin to the masthead for the first man who sights the monster. All cry out “Death to Moby-Dick.” Starbuck finds the mission to be blasphemous, but Ahab is unmoved.
Starbuck tutors Greenhorn in the art of whaling but is overcome with emotion, fearing he may never again see his wife and son. Suddenly, Stubb sights a pod of whales and Ahab arrives to forbid the hunt: Moby-Dick is the true target. The Pequod sails on, with Greenhorn and Queequeg as lookouts. Ahab is oblivious to the splendor of the scene before him. Starbuck fears that Ahab has become unhinged and is truly mad.
Three months later
Months have passed with no whales captured, and boredom has set in. Stubb teases Pip, the cabin boy, but too much cavillng within the crew incites a brawl. Fortunately, a whale is sighted, and Starbuck convinces Ahab that the men must hunt. In the process, a whaleboat capsizes and young Pip goes missing.
The men render the slaughtered whale, and the oil is poured into leaking barrels. Pip is sorely missed and feared dead. Starbuck urges Ahab to put into the nearest port to repair the leaking barrels. But Ahab thinks only of Moby-Dick, and a violent quarrel with Starbuck ensues. As Ahab points a gun at Starbuck, a cry goes up that Queequeg has rescued Pip.
Starbuck, still fearing he will never again see his family, stealthily enters Ahab’s cabin and considers killing the Captain. He finds he cannot and departs.
ACT TWO: One Year Later
As a storm approaches, the crew sings while Greenhorn and Queequeg talk of voyaging together to the Pacific Islander’s home. Queequeg suddenly falls ill and is taken below deck. He tells Greenhorn that he is dying and requests a coffin be crafted for him.
Ahab, who thinks always and only of sighting Moby-Dick, demands to be lifted aloft to keep a lookout. A massive storm surrounds the ship while lightning bolts bounce around the deck. When St. Elmo’s Fire engulfs the mast and the sails, Ahab encourages the crew by claiming it is a sign from Heaven.
The Next Day
The storm has passed. From a whaling vessel nearby, Captain Gardiner solicits the Pequod for help to find his twelve-year-old son who has been washed overboard. When Ahab stonily refuses, Pip calls out that he, too, is lost and cuts himself, spilling blood on Ahab. As the Pequod sails on, Ahab baptizes his harpoon with Pip’s blood. Below deck, Greenhorn considers the insanity that has afflicted those on board the Pequod.
On deck, Captain Ahab reflects to Starbuck about his forty years at sea and wonders if his life’s journey has had purpose. Sensing a kindred spirit in Starbuck, Ahab is about to agree to return home to Nantucket when he spies Moby-Dick. He orders the whaling boats lowered, and the hunt is on. Ahab insists that Starbuck remain behind on the Pequod.
The great whale destroys two boats, tossing men into the sea, and then assails the Pequod herself. All crew members are lost save Ahab, who ferociously attacks the whale, only to be dragged down under the waves.
Days later, Captain Gardiner finds Greenhorn half dead, lying on top of Queequeg’s floating coffin. He is the lone survivor of the ill-fated voyage.
Synopsis courtesy of Kristine McIntyre, Michael Clive and Utah Opera
Introduction to Opera
At 6:30 before evening performances and at 1:30 before matinees, a free talk will be presented in the California Theatre that will acquaint you with the composer’s life, his place in the history of opera, the story and its characters. If you are attending the 1:30 or 6:30 Introduction, you must be ticketed for that day’s performance; and your ticket must be torn as you enter the building.
A one-hour preview for each 2018-19 production is presented free of charge in the third floor rehearsal hall of the California Theatre, located at 345 S. First Street. Please enter via Market Street entrance and take elevator to third floor. Moderated by GD Larry Hancock, the preview includes a lecture and performances by OSJ artists. Dates for previews are as follows:
- The Abduction from the Seraglio: September 4, 2018
- Pagliacci: November 6, 2018
- Moby-Dick: January 29, 2019
- Madama Butterfly: April 2, 2019
All previews begin at 12 noon.
Opera at Your Doorstep Lecture Series
Increase your understanding of opera and enjoy upcoming Opera San José performances all the more by attending one of longtime OSJ subscriber Bradford Wade’s FREE previews. Dates for Moby-Dick lecture talks will be announced in January 2019. For more information about the Opera at Your Doorstep Lecture Series and/or to RSVP, email OperaAtYourDoorstep@gmail.com.
Performances of Moby-Dick are made possible, in part, by a grant from the Carol Franc Buck Foundation,
and a Cultural Affairs grant from the the City of San Jose.