Moby-Dick from San Francisco Opera
Composer Jake Heggie on Creating Moby-Dick

Composer Jake Heggie describes how the opera “Moby-Dick” was developed and his collaboration with librettist Gene Scheer and the opera singers who created the roles.

Jake Heggie Interview

Heggie says the idea of making an opera based on the novel “Moby-Dick” came into being in 2005. The Dallas Opera contacted him, saying they wanted to commission a new work for the inaugural season of its new opera house. At the time Heggie was working with Terrance McNally on the opera, “At the Statue of Venus.” McNally suggested writing an opera about “Moby-Dick.”

“I was as taken aback as everybody,” says Heggie about McNally’s suggestion. “But when I saw the sparkle in his eye, I knew that it would be possible.”

“The big issue with that piece is to condense that 600-page book into a workable 60-page libretto,” elaborates Heggie. “I knew if that could be done, the music would be there.”

Though McNally ultimately couldn’t take on the project, Gene Scheer came on board. Heggie has great admiration for the librettist. “[He's] a real wordsmith with a poet’s soul. He understands the stage. He understands what opera does differently than anything else … Working with him, we were able to figure out how to tell this story.”

Heggie considers singers great collaborators in the process, too. “I love singers, they’re my people!” he laughs. “I love interacting with them and getting to know them. It’s also very important for me before I write a note that I know who the singers are who will create these roles. Because I’m going to write for the character and the role, but I’m going to dress it on someone for the very first time. When I know their character, their voice, their range, what they’re like, it just makes it three-dimensional right from the beginning.”

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