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Whale Of A Tale

Opera San José mobilizes composer, collaborators and capital to present a new production of Moby-Dick.


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Photo: Art & Clarity

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Given the leviathan at the heart of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, it’s no surprise that composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer’s 2010 operatic adaptation provides a sweeping sense of scale. For Opera San José, which presents the company premiere of Moby-Dick starting Feb. 9, that scope has proven challenging. The orchestra pit in San Jose’s historic California Theatre is too small for the number of musicians required, while the large number of male choristers means some must fly in from outside the Bay Area, according to Larry Hancock, the company’s general director. Then there’s the cost of new costumes, props and sets, which Hancock notes can easily reach $1.5 million.

But, in true Silicon Valley style, a strategic partnership, venture capital and some creativity have resulted in a new coproduction (with four other companies) that still feels as vast as the white whale. Philanthropist Carol Franc Buck, whose eponymous foundation had previously supported Opera San José’s sizable production of Silent Night, provided “generous funding,” according to Hancock, while also encouraging him to join forces with Utah Opera, then already at work on a new Moby-Dick.

Heggie authorized a reduced orchestration by conductor Cristian Macelaru “that sounds every bit as big and dramatic, but requires fewer players,” he says. He further approves of the new staging, which he saw last year in Utah and Pennsylvania, home of the Pittsburgh Opera. “Director Kristine McIntyre and set designer Erhard Rom have found imaginative, bold, surprising, beautiful and pragmatic solutions to tell the story,” says Heggie. “It’s immensely gratifying to know that the opera—as massive as it is—can be done in different ways with fresh perspective and vision.” General Director’s dinner on the stage with Heggie and KQED arts reporter Rachael Myrow, Feb. 8, tickets $600; Moby- Dick, Feb. 9-24, tickets $55-$175; 345 S. First St., 408.437.4450