Given his towering position in the pantheon of American authors, it is surprising that the bicentenary year of the birth of Herman Melville, born on 1 August 1819 in New York, is passing with such little fanfare. However, this reviewer recently managed to catch performances of opera versions of his two most famous creations, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick (2010) and Benjamin Britten, E.M. Forster, and Eric Crozier’s Billy Budd (1951). Three of Melville’s works have scored the trifecta of being adapted for theatre, film, and opera – Benito Cereno (1855) is the third – but there appear to be no planned productions of Stephen Douglas Burton’s Benito Cereno or of the earlier version of Moby Dick by the short-lived Italian composer Armando Gentilucci.
Moby-Dick was commissioned for the opening of the Dallas Winspear Opera House in a coproduction with, among others, the State Opera of South Australia, where it arrived in 2011. The Dallas reception was extremely positive.