Whale of a Story @ Chicago Opera Theatre

3 stars out of 4

Moby-Dick is the great American Epic, and thus makes a terrific tale to adapt into the most dramatic of theatrical arts: an opera.  And Chicago Opera Theater has done justice to the story with its big hearted,grand style rendition of Jake Heggie’s 2010 opera now on view at the Harris Theater for an extremely limited run.

When you arrive at the theater you are face to face with the sea: a luminous painted version with a pulsing projection that seems to ebb and flow like tides.  When the curtain lifts the beautiful set is at once a map, a ship and the dome of the sky and stars. Ehrhard Rom has created a visually stunning world for this story about men and the sea and the lost industry of whaling off the US east coast.

And the singing begins:Andrew Bidlak's Greenhorn is a naïve and searching soul.  His voice is the kind of clear plaintive tenor that cuts to the heart.  In this adaptation there is a great deal of focus on the his budding relationship with Queequeg ,sung by the powerful Vince Wallace.  It serves as counterpoint to the life threatening enmity between Ahab,sung by Richard Cox who was born for this role, and Starbuck,whose portrayal by Aleksey Bogdanov steals the show, capturing the tragedy of a man forced into a place he never thought he would go. 

A special shout must go out to Summer Hassan, only one of two women on stage, for her pants role as the ill fated Pip.  Her voice is emotive and yet crystal clear. She’s a talent to watch.

On opening night Nick Ward stepped in for David Govertson and brought marvelous singing and humor to his portrayal of Stubb.

The first act builds powerfully as the ship of sea goers comes to understand the harrowing fools journey they are on.  The second act dissipates the energy as it moves through Heggie’s magnificent music and its hard to know if that’s a staging or libretto issue. While the colossal whale eye that replaced the ship’s deck gave a feeling of enormous scale, when we come to the deaths of most of the crew and finally Ahab it was disappointing that it became a mere check off the list of plot points type of resolution.  The great conflict seemed skipped over and so we are only left with catastrophic waste. We are not as moved as we might have been, we remain untransformed. Still the story ends with stranded Greenhorn in the darkening stage asking us to call him Ishmael. Here we feel the loss and the time passed and the weight of the journey.

Standouts were the choral sections utilizing the Harris Theater staircases in a sonically immersive way, and the overall ensemble which worked seamlessly to create teaming docks and crowded ships and the bloody backbreaking work of carving up and rendering a leviathan.

Moby-Dick is here for an impossibly short time: it will only play one more time for a Sunday Matinee. So dig out from Saturday’s predicted tempest  and head to the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance at 205 East Randolph in Millenium Park.  For tickets and information go to https://www.chicagooperatheater.org/current-season/moby-dick/  or call 312-704-8414