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Hopping around on a pegleg, Captain Ahab obsessively lurches the Pequod whaling ship toward the open seas to find his nemesis, the white whale. The dramatic story is the focus of the latest work to hit San Diego Opera’s stage. It was one of five opera companies worldwide to commission a team to bring the story to operatic life.

But the man singing Ahab had big trouble singing the part. After a stormy performance Saturday night, tenor Ben Heppner withdrew from the remaining three shows due to illness, the company said. The tenor has “been noted as much for his cancellations as his appearances and some vocal travails in performances” in recent years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

There’s only one other guy in the world who knows this part. San Diego Opera announced Sunday that that guy, tenor Jay Hunter Morris, would come to sing the role for last night’s performance and to finish the run on Friday and Sunday.

While noting Heppner’s trouble, critics for, the U-T San Diego and the North County Times still gave high praise to the opera, specially mentioning the technical elements of the production and its dazzling set design.

As the company counted the days to the West Coast premiere of the opera, there was a frenzy of activity behind the scenes. Heppner wasn’t the only one replaced — earlier in the week, the company brought in a replacement conductor, Joseph Mechavich, for conductor Karen Keltner, who said she was ill. In more backstage peeks that San Diego Opera shared with us last week, we learned how the pegleg works and about the all-male chorus and the team of climbers, fighters and acrobats who portray part of the crew of the whaling ship motif but don’t sing.

We also posted a collection of vivid photographs and video from a dress rehearsal we visited last week.

KPBS took an excellent look at the set and projections design. And CityBeat sized up the more than 50 tons of wood, steel and scenery on stage.

Last night before he went on, Morris posted this picture of the pegleg he’d have to hobble around on for three hours. “Well hello old friend,” he wrote. “Shall we dance?”

You’re reading the Arts Report, our weekly compilation of the region’s arts and culture news.

A New Approach

As the opera’s experiences this weekend shows, often the drama is at its highest behind-the-scenes.

That’s why we’re launching a new series to explore the myriad things that go into making art, the large and small armies of people working on individual pieces of the puzzle. When they come together to raise the curtain or hang the paintings or roll the film or open the doors or take the stage, it can be magic.

Our Arts: Embedded series begins this week with a look at the upcoming play “How I Got That Story” by Amlin Gray that the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company is putting on. In our first dispatch, director Seema Sueko describes the riskiness of inviting people who’ve lived the real deal into the rehearsal room to consult on a fictional play.

And in our second glimpse from rehearsal, combat veterans join the actors to teach them how to crawl through the jungle toting an M-16.

I explained more about that approach and how I’ll widen my reporting territory to include arts and nonprofits.

So Much Drama

• This is cool. The U-T had a bunch of local theater connoisseurs go to a play somewhere in the county, and then write down what was happening exactly at 8:30 p.m., to provide a “freeze-frame of playgoing in our town — on one given night, at one given moment.”

• A major shift: Lamb’s Player’s Theatre announced it would disband the ensemble of full-time actors that have previously earned salaries from the company year-round. (U-T San Diego)

• L.A. Times theater critic Charles McNulty analyzes the balance that nonprofit theaters try to strike between earning enough money and staging adventurous artistic theater. That’s the backdrop as The Old Globe searches for new artistic leadership — the Globe’s most recent leader tried to do both but under the corporate title “CEO.”

• Theater on wheels: The La Jolla Playhouse’s new “Car Plays” stuffs playgoers into the back seat of a sedan (or taxi, or SUV) and firing up some live theater.” A slew of local theater pros and students are involved. (U-T)

Happening Here

• Prolific local artist Roman de Salvo is working on artwork for a park near Seaport Village. He drew materials from already-dead trees from Sherman Heights and Ramona. In a look at his new project, CityBeat’s Kinsee Morlan writes:

The medium itself is the ordinary materials de Salvo likes so much, but the way he’s carefully sliced and pieced the trees back together, creating an entirely new, organic composition-that’s where the extraordinary comes in.

• Encinitas school trustees said last week that the school district could begin negotiating with San Diego arts group Art Pulse to potentially turn the vacant Pacific View Elementary School into an arts center. (North County Times)

• National City native John Baldessari, an internationally known artist, said he’s growing increasingly uncomfortable with the role money plays in the art world. (U-T)

• A 9-year-old from Poway wants to beat the world record for most pirouettes in a row. (NCT)

• The county of San Diego made a short documentary about two employees digging through archives and old offices to find artifacts and documents to display like museum exhibits in a new government building. (County of San Diego)

• Perhaps best-known for playing Sulu on Star Trek, actor George Takei is passionate about his involvement in the upcoming production of “Allegiance” at The Old Globe this fall that will explore the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. (Esquire)

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Kelly Bennett is the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach her directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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