Stephen Costello has called his creation of the role of Greenhorn (Ishmael) for the world-premiere production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick at Dallas Opera two years ago one of the most exciting and important experiences of his career. Beginning Wednesday, October 10, Stephen reprises the role when he makes his debut at San Francisco Opera in the acclaimed production that Associated Press called “achingly beautiful, magnificently sung and gorgeously staged.” Stephen and most of the same cast from the original production, including conductor Patrick Summers, will give eight performances of this landmark contemporary opera through November 2. A day before the opening, Stephen reflected on the happy occasion of the opera’s West Coast premiere.
Q: What was it like returning to a role that you created, and that had such a significant impact on you?
SC: When we first did Moby-Dick in Dallas the work was being brought to life for the first time. When you’re working on something brand new you have so many things that you have to bring together: learning how the production works, getting to know the character you are portraying, learning new music, and figuring out how your own music intertwines with the music of your fellow singers. With all of those things happening at once you can’t completely dig in to your character and his relationships to the degree that you’d like. But doing this production again is like reading a book for the second time – there are so many new layers that are revealed! You can keep shedding new light on the different relationships in the work and can find new things in the music that help you figure out what your character is going through at each moment. At the world premiere I felt as though we had put a product on display that we hadn’t quite finished. Now, you can go back and modify some of the parts that you might have changed earlier but that you only know now how to adjust.
Q: How does it feel to be reunited with the same group of artists in the same production that you were in in Dallas?
SC: Much of the cast is the same except this time we are led by a new Captain Ahab: Jay Hunter Morris. Not only is he an incredible artist, but he is also a beacon of positivity. He never has a negative comment to say about anything in rehearsal. He is always seeing the bright side of everything. We could be in a rehearsal all day, with many things going wrong, but he turns it all into a positive experience. When he puts on that peg leg and starts into this opera it’s as though Ahab has entered the stage! He just channels this character into his body. It’s really incredible. I got to see Jay from the wings at the Metropolitan Opera when he jumped into for Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, and it’s incredible to be singing beside him now. When he’s chasing the whale he gets this look in his eye that is genuinely frightening. You can tell how obsessed he is by just looking at him. Jay is wonderful.
Q: At the Dallas premiere many people commented on the extraordinary chemistry that they saw happening on stage. Should audiences in San Francisco expect that same kind of experience?
SC: I think that there’s a certain feeling of family in this production that really comes through to the audience. Every time we’re on stage together, from the time we come out to sing “Whales and Wealth” to the closing “We Are One,” there is such a feeling that we are all on that ship together. In fact, we feel like we’ve been on that ship for months. When we sing, “We are all one body breathing,” we really feel it. With the Dallas production behind us, and the San Francisco production happening now, we already feel like we’ve worked together for our entire lives. We actually felt that right away when we came together for our first rehearsal.
Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick (Greenhorn)
San Francisco Opera (debut)
Oct 10, 13, 18, 21, 23, 26 & 30; Nov 2
“For additional details and ticket information, visit: http://sfopera.com/Season-Tickets/2012-2013-Season/Moby-Dick.aspx
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