Chicago Opera Theater and The Newberry Library MOBY DICK Preview – Harpoon Etiquette, Peggy Sue Challenges and More

Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
The Bedford Whaling Museum had much source material used to create this production
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
Costume design was developed by looking at many historic photographs of whalers
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
This sculpture shows the correct way to hold a harpoon
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
One view of the set in the upcoming COT production of Moby Dick
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
Stage Director McIntyre demonstrates her familiarity with harpoon handling Photo: Peter Kachergis
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
(L to R) Kristine McIntyre, Stage Director and Lidiya Yankovskaya, Conductor Photo: Peter Kachergis
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
Pianist Josh Quinn Photo: Peter Kachergis

The packed house in The Newberry Library hall might not have noticed the harpoon poised next to a window until petite Kristine McIntyre grabbed it to show us the correct way to hold it that she had been schooled in.

McIntyre is the Stage Director for Chicago Opera Theater’s (COT) upcoming production of Moby Dick, as well as four other productions of the same opera in San Jose, Barcelona, Pittsburgh and Utah. Her harpoon holding teachers were from the Bedford Whaling Museum, a museum she praised generously, also showing us slides of their many whaling exhibits and recounting how she immersed herself in the whaling world through their excellent exhibits.  It’s there that she also realized the high drama of whale blubber and skin being used to render the oil from the blubber—lighting up the whaling ships through the night. We could almost smell it.

Going to school on harpoon etiquette and immersing in the spectacle of rendering whale blubber actually sounded like the least of the effort that has gone into assuring that this opera meets the high bar we have come to expect from Chicago Opera Theater. McIntyre read Melville’s novel eight times in order to figure out how to best tell the story – though she had avoided reading Moby Dick in high school, college and graduate school prior.

As much as we quickly came to admire how McIntyre went all in to bring us Moby Dick, it is tenor Richard Cox playing Captain Ahab that this writer believes should get the Olympic Gold Medal.   We watched a video demonstrating the arduous routine to attach a peg leg that he has affectionately named “Peggy Sue” to his body. We consider how he sings for 45 minutes stretches, and climbs up and down steps with “Peggy Sue”. We learn how he “trained” and is still training with both physical therapists and Alexander Technique coaches.   And, even if he seems simply buoyant and cheery, we couldn’t help but get vicarious leg cramps as we imagined his routine. You get the sense that if his next role would require him to sing from a medieval torture rack he’d be saying “No problem!”

Chicago Opera Theater Conductor Leads the Discussion

These and other fascinating inside looks at what it takes to make an opera like this, and Moby Dick in specific, were brought to life during this preview event by personable COT Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya peppering McIntyre with questions. Following, we could then soak up what unfortunately was the last day of The Newberry Library’s special exhibit on Herman Melville.

The pièce de resistance, however, in this writer’s view, were the two performers who sang with pianist Josh Quinn—baritone Aleksey Bogdanov who plays the role of Starbuck and tenor Andrew Bidlack who sings a role of Greenhorn. The snippets they sang were strongly emotive and engaging—piquing our interest to hear the one soprano voice, other principals, 39 choristers and also see the four dancers who will perform in Moby Dick.

Stay tuned to these pages for a review of Moby Dick.

For tickets and more information visit the Chicago Opera Theater website.

 

Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
Baritone Aleksey Bogdanov plays the role of Starbuck Photo: Peter Kachergis
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
Tenor Andrew Bidlack sings the role of Greenhorn Photo: Peter Kachergis

The Newberry Library has hosted two Chicago Opera Theater previews this year

Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
The Newberry Library Melville exhibit was expansive-- original manuscripts, maps, and more Photo: Peter Kachergis
Chicago Opera Theater MOBY DICK
The Newberry Library, though this exhibit is closed, has a rich Melville collection Photo: Peter Kachergis

Photos courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater, unless otherwise indicated

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