Moby Dick
Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

Hast seen the great white whale?

Los Angeles Opera has mounted a memorable production of MOBY-DICK, with music by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer, and direction by Leonard Foglia. Adapted (with some curious changes) from Herman Melville’s classic American novel, the opera features tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab, the vengeful, peg-legged skipper of the Pequod, a whaling boat out of Nantucket, Mass. Morris is magnificent as Ahab, commanding the stage at all times, both as actor and singer. He drives the action, not just verbally but physically, often pounding away on the deck of the Pequod with his stump in eight-eight time, a motif Heggie uses to good effect.

The other featured singers give strong performances as well: Morgan Smith as first-mate Starbuck; Musa Ngqungwana as harpooner Queequeg; Malcolm MacKenzie as second mate Stubb; and Matthew O’Neill as third mate Flask. As for cabin boy Pip and new crew member Greenhorn, questions must be asked. Why is Pip sung by a woman (soprano Jacqueline Echols) and why has such an important character as Ishmael been renamed (and refashioned) as Greenhorn (Joshua Guerrero)? One also wonders about the way the opera ends, on a sentimental note that Melville never intended, with Greenhorn, the lone survivor of the Pequod’s destruction, finding a father in Captain Gardiner (Nicholas Brownlee), skipper of the whaler which has come to the aid of the Pequod.

But these are just minor reservations which do not detract from the over-all power and majesty of the opera. Heggie’s score, which is vigorously conducted by James Conlon, captures all the drama and excitement of Melville’s epic novel, its beauty and poignancy as well. And Elaine J. McCarthy’s projection designs are equally dazzling: the deck and masts of the Pequod, a storm at sea, the climactic battle with the ferocious white whale.

Hats off to L.A. Opera for taking on such an immense challenge as MOBY-DICK and triumphing with it.

(Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave through November. Call 213-972-8801 or visit