Ishmael


So I went to the opera.
It was an adaptation of Melville's book. It's a thoroughly modern opera, of course, written by Gary Scheer and with book by Jake Heggie. Stage by Kristine McIntyre and conducted by Lidya Yankovskaya (it was awesome seeing a woman conducting the orchestra!). It's not a faithful retelling of the story. They have of course taken many liberties, to make it well, operatic, and to tell the story in a way that fits lyrical theater.

The bones are there, of course, with Ahab being a crazy, deranged hunter and Starbuck trying to minimize the crazy. The real story for me, though was the bromance (I'd say romance, because I'm biased) between Queequeg (who's supposed to be a cannibal islander) and Greenhorn (the starry-eyed new-boy-in-boat). I think I saw this opera as a tale of discovery and friendship and I would say, love. Because its focus seemed to be not on Ahab or Starbuck but on Queequeg and Greenhorn, I saw it more as a love story between two men at sea.

It was an all-male cast with only one pants role, (a soprano plays the only boy in the story) and the dynamics were mostly about power and a portrayal of masculinity and the roles males play as the driving force for both revenge (Ahab) and work ethics (Starbuck). The bromance is cut short because of course (spoiler alert) Queequeg dies and Greenhorn ends up being the only survivor left after Moby Dick takes on the whaling boat.

Without a doubt the most tender moments were basically when the two sailors were getting to know each other and when Queequeg falls sick (a plot device? because I didn't remember that from the book) Greenhorn sings to him. I got goosebumps. If you want to get the feels, go to an all-male opera. The voices are just fantastic. Not to mention the drama.

It's clear that Melville did infuse Moby Dick with lots of repressed sexual energy (if you remember the book from high school) and he basically condemned the budding relationship to tragedy, maybe to reflect the feelings of the epoch and that's reflected in the opera. Moby Dick is a tragedy deep down, because neither love nor hate can reach a climax. I think the opera manages to inject the social judgement of the time into the relationships we hear the men sing about, though, and that's why male-male relationships are as doomed as Ahab's quest.

I have to say I really enjoyed it, though. Both Scheer and Heggie had a pre-opera talk with the conductor and it was brilliant to hear from them how the opera came to be. I went because I'm a sucker for listening to men with deep voices sing, but I truly enjoyed the musicality and the storytelling, not to mention the stage direction (they did very cool things with the stage). It's quite a feat to adapt a beloved literary classic into another form of art, but I think they managed to accomplish it.

Oh, another thing that struck me? At the end op the opera, after Moby Dick destroys the Pequod, Greenhorn says: "Call me Ishmael", which is the way the book starts. Smart, no?

XOXO



P.S. Oh, here. This was not the opera I saw but you'll get the gist.



Comments

  1. I always have found that expectation can kill the enjoyment of any theatrical production...I'm going to see the west end production of ALL ABOUT EVE next week and I worry that my expectations will get me dissapointed
    This sounds an interesting watch

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  2. My favourite part of the whole novel is the Queequeg/Ishmael romance. Reading Melville's prose with 21st century eyes, it's quite clear there was a gay romance/marriage between them. And Queequeg did fall seriously ill in the novel too -- that's why he carved his elaborate coffin that eventually saved Ishmael's life when the ship was destroyed. Ishmael floated on it in the sea until rescued. Queequeg had painted the coffin with all his tattoos on his skin, so it's like Ishmael survived by clinging to his husband's body. Saved by gay love! Oh, that Melville.

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  3. I was made to read Moby Dick in college for a class in American Lit. Didn't like it. The book or the class. What did strike me, however, was the novel's over homoerotic tones. My professor played it down, however, and told me my reading of the book was wrong. But, what about Chapter 94, "A Squeeze of the Hand"? I yelped. It's nothing but a whaling term? A term? I insisted. The man, the men, the sperm! The professor continued to deny my claim that Melville may have been homosexual and that there was no homo eroticism in the novel. Whatever. I ended up with a C in class. I still maintain that Moby Dick is laden with homoerotic undertones. I give you two paragraphs from Chapter 94, "A Squeeze of the Hand" from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. You decide:

    "Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

    Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side; the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti."

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  4. Tio is making me a little warm reading his comment.

    I did not know this was made into an opera. But I love 'pant roles' my favorite being Janet Baker as Romeo opposite Beverly Sills Juliet, in Bellini's Version of Romeo and Juliete. The only male aria duet I can think of is in Bizet's Pearl Fishers.

    My husband and I met at the opera!

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  5. I mean,come on,the story is just made for opera! I imagine it was pretty amazing.

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  6. I love the story of Moby Dick and had no idea it was an opera. I have only been to two operas, both of which Daddy Warbucks took me too. While I dont mind operas, I do enjoy the symphony better. My cousin from Chattanooga is coming soon. He plays with the symphony there...lead voilaist. I love to hear him practice. It will be nice to hear live music at the casa.

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  7. Yes...Walter's comment has made me hot too.

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  8. Not a bit opera person here, I got really sick at La Boheme. What I'm really interested in is who played Moby Dick. He is the star of the book, after all. There are 2 great American novels: Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick. I had to read and dissect both while in college (degree is in English). Moby is most often seen as pure and almost god-like come to destroy the evil that is Ahab, and what he represents. So... who played the whale?

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  9. @John: All About Eve? Fabulous! And I went into kind of tabula rasa. I was pleasantly surprised.
    @Debra: Absolutely! A queer reading of the novel is FUNDAMENTAL. The coffin gave me that Ennis DelMar vibe from Brokeback Mountain, when he had the two shirts together? No?
    @Walter: you are my spirit animal and your reading of the book gave me the feels. I absolutely agree the homoeroticism is blatant. Even the titles of the chapters drip with innuendo. And he DEDICATED the book to Hawthorne. Really? More obvious impossible.
    @Jimmy: Pant roles are deliciously subversive and absolutely queer. And you met at the opera! Romantic!!
    @Bob: it was FAB. The music, the voices, the DRAMA! Is there anything gayer than opera?
    @Maddie: OMG live violin music? Yes, please! And you know that Walter can work that magic, right?
    @Dave: Well, I think it was us, the public, who played the whale. Voracious and unforgiving. We wanted them all.

    You guys rule.

    XOXO

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