Whether you’ve read the Herman Melville novel or seen Gregory Peck on film as Capt. Ahab, “Moby-Dick” might seem like an unusual choice for adaptation as an opera.
But composers Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have succeeded in reining in the sprawling epic, as veteran stage director Kristine McIntyre will attest.
“It’s a very big book, and Melville spends a lot of time talking about things that aren’t necessarily what we would think of as the plot of ‘Moby-Dick,’” she said, crediting the focus of Heggie and Scheer: “They let a lot of that other stuff go and focused us really in on the story.”
Fresh off a successful run of the operatic “Moby-Dick” in Utah, McIntyre is providing stage direction for the Pittsburgh Opera production, which premieres March 17.
In the meantime, she will be among the participants in a special musical preview and discussion about the opera, scheduled for 7 p.m. March 3 at Mt. Lebanon Public Library.
A Portland, Ore., resident who has directed more than 80 operas across the United States, McIntyre is likely to provide plenty of insight as to what it takes to bring the story of the obsessed sea captain and his elusive white whale to the stage.
“The biggest challenge, I think, for anybody trying to produce this opera is that the opera still asks you to be on the boat,” she said about Ahab’s Pequod, “then on the whaleboats, then back on the boat.” And after several more scene changes: “You have to destroy everything and wind up with just a guy floating on a coffin.”
The set’s main feature is a curved wall upon which markings of a map are inscribed.
“The map that you see is actually the voyage that the Pequod takes, so it immediately locates us in this kind of nautical reality,” McIntyre explained. “And then we have other elements that are very changeable that come into and out of the piece, letting us evoke different parts of the boat in a very theatrical kind of way.”
The Utah Symphony, which staged “Moby-Dick” in January, is co-producer along with other companies that are scheduled to host performances: Pittsburgh Opera, March 17, 20, 23 and 25; Opera San Jose and Chicago Opera Theater in 2019; and the Teatre Liceu in Barcelona, Spain, in 2020.
“The hope is that some more companies in the U.S. pick it up, but I think it will have quite a life in Europe,” McIntyre said. “Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ just played in Madrid and did very well, so there’s a real interest now in new American opera in Europe.”
She has worked often in the past with Pittsburgh Opera and has known general director Christopher Hahn since both were with San Francisco Opera, where McIntyre had her first directing experience.
“Now they’re really focusing on new American opera,” she said about the Pittsburgh company, “which is where my heart is and where I think, obviously, the future of this art form lies. So I think that’s really great. And now it’s great to be doing a new American opera on the main stage, because I think that’s the key.”
As for her chosen genre, McIntyre said she long has been interested in telling stories through music.
“And I’m attracted to opera because of the fact that it’s a storytelling mechanism that’s non-naturalistic,” she explained. “I was always drawn to things that were a little more abstract, a little more fantastical in their storytelling. And that’s opera.”
For more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org/show/moby-dick.