Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick has been successful in a way few contemporary operas are. Since its Dallas premiere in 2010 it has been given in Adelaide, Calgary, San Diego and, most recently, San Francisco where it was recorded in 2012. It’s not hard to see why it has been a success. The subject is dramatic and has been skilfully compressed into a little over two hours by librettist Gene Scheer and the score steers the fine line between accessibility and triviality. Add to that a visually appealing production and it’s a winning package.
Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine was a huge hit in Paris, London and New York when it premiered in 1865. I’m not sure why. It has all of the things that make Meyerbeer seem very dated and not as much of the good stuff as Les Huguenots, or even Dinorah. It’s ostensibly about Vasco de Gama but that’s just a peg to pin a love triangle and a bunch of exoticism on. Are we actually supposed to believe that the Portugese wanted to find a way around the Cape to find out what was there? It would have been a lot easier to get hold of a copy of Herodotus. It’s also long. Even with cuts it runs well over three hours in the version recorded at San Francisco Opera in 1988.
There’s a bit of a debate about which North American opera company is the second largest. Nobody, of course, disputes the Metropolitan Opera’s overwhelming lead in sheer size. With 26 productions in repertoire for 2011/12 and something like 220 performances it is over three times the size of it’s leading rivals. It also has the biggest house, seating 3,800 with 300 standing room spaces. The next largest operations are:
San Francisco Opera – 9 productions, 72 performances plus 2 “Carmen for Families”.
Canadian Opera Company (Toronto) – 7 productions, 68 performances plus 1 Ensemble Studio performance.
Lyric Opera of Chicago – 7 operas plus “Showboat”, 59 opera performances plus 12 of Showboat (It seems to be SOP at the Lyric to do 7 “proper” operas plus a musical or operetta).
No-one else has more than 6 productions. All figures based on 2011/12.
Now the war Memorial Opera House in San Francisco seats 3,146 so assuming a reasonable capacity utilisation I think that makes them no. 2 by any measure. The Civic Opera House in Chicago seats 3,563 so assuming they too sell a reasonable proportion of their seats they probably come in at 3. The Four Seasons Centre only seats around 2,100 (actually a much more typical number for an opera house by world standards) but is almost always virtually sold out. So around 140,000 seats are sold for the COC in a season bringing them in at no. 4.