Composers Datebook®

Heggie's white whale

Composers Datebook - March 30, 2024


“Call me Ishmael” Birge. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, then, I account it high time to get to the nearest Starbucks as soon as I can.

With apologies to Hermann Melville, today marks the anniversary of the opening of the first Starbucks coffee shop in Seattle. Now, since Starbucks gets its name from the first mate of the Pequod, the whaling ship made famous in Melville’s classic American novel Moby Dick, in addition to a steaming hot cup of Starbucks coffee, we celebrate composer Jake Heggie’s ambitious Moby Dick opera, which premiered in Dallas in 2010.

“When I write an opera, at a certain point the characters start singing to me,” Heggie said about wrestling with his great white whale. “But this was the first piece where I felt there was a physical cost, an exhaustion. ... Moby Dick deserved that.”

And no doubt Dallas Opera stage director Leonard Foglia needed more than a few cups of Starbucks coffee to bring Melville’s epic drama to life on stage.

He said, “I had to sink the ship in eight bars of music.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Jake Heggie (b. 1961): ‘Moby Dick’; San Francisco Opera; Patrick Summers, cond. EuroArts DVD 2059658

On This Day


  • 1935 - American composer Gordon Muma, in Framingham, MA


  • 1764 - Italian composer Pietro Locatelli, 68, in Amsterdam


  • 1725 - Bach: St. John Passion (S. 245, second version) performed at Vespers on Good Friday as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25); The first version had premiered on Good Friday in 1724 (April 7)

  • 1881 - R. Strauss: Symphony in d, in Munich, with Hermann Levi; This was Strauss' first major orchestral work

  • 1951 - Piston: Symphony No. 4, by the Minneapolis Symphony, Antal Dorati conducting

  • 2000 - Corigliano: Phantasmagoria (Suite from the opera The Ghosts of Versailles), in Minneapolis, by the Minnesota Orchestra, Giancarlo Guerrero conducting

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®