It has been a number of years since I was an usher at the Metropolitan Opera. Those years were wonderful, and I have so many good memories of music that shaped who I am, musically, today. So, it was with great delight that I had the chance to attend the Dallas Opera's production, and world premiere run, of Everest, by Joby Talbot. First of all, I must admit to never being enamored with modern opera. I heard a few over the years (Moses and Aron at the Met comes to mind), but none of the music or productions really grabbed me. When my father told me Dallas Opera was doing a new opera based on the events portrayed by John Krakauer in Into Thin Air, my immediate thought was one of, "Huh???"
Well, I must admit, you can take a compelling story, set it to digestible and effective music, and pair it with a simple but amazingly effective production and libretto, and the experience was stunning.
First, the music... Joby Talbot's score was very film-like to me in nature. There are lots of textures and effects, but also some beautiful melodies. I thought the scoring complemented the singers very well, never covering them in the important sections. The singers were not names I have heard, but then I am no aficionado when it comes to opera singers. Andrew Bidlack (Rob Hall) has a beautiful, lyric voice. He didn't sound particularly powerful to me, but the score complemented the beautiful, touching qualities of his voice very well. Sasha Cooke (Meg) and Kevin Burdette (Beck Weathers) were highlights for me as well.
Most people know my father is a member of the orchestra (principal trombone), and many other orchestra members have been mentors and colleagues from the time I was a high school musician. I can say, with no reservation, this orchestra is a fantastic ensemble. I have heard them perform the scores to both Lohengrin and Götterdämmerung, and they sound as great as ever with Everest. I truly enjoyed the percussion writing and playing in the performance, with both atmospheric effects and excellent percussion writing being an important part of the score.
The set was fantastic! I mean, when you have opera singers rappelling down the Hilary Step, while singing, it doesn't get much more riveting than that! The lighting design added a tremendous amount of dimension to the production, and was one of the highlights of the performance. The night sky and sub-zero temperatures the climbers endured on their bivouacs during their descent were portrayed in such a beautiful and tragic way, I couldn't help but be absolutely drawn in to the performance.