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Within the context of Melville’s Moby Dick, the character of Pip is significant. Moby Dick was written ten years before the start of the Civil War and as an African-American character, the way Pip is treated by the other characters is significant.

In Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick the role of Pip is written for a soprano because he is 13-years-old and should not sound like a man. I asked soprano Talise Trevigne to talk about her role of Pip.

“I’ve been asked if this is a difficult role to sing. I say no. He [Jake Heggie] understands my voice and he wrote it [Moby Dick] for the people who were going to sing it. It comes from such a natural place that it’s liberating and I can be other things. I can dive deeper into what makes Pip such a fascinating boy. There are so many layers to him. How did he make it to the Pequod—I mean given the time, the era? This is a boy who has no parents. How did he make it North to be on the Pequod without being sold into slavery or someone questioning about who he is with or who owns him? There is so much strength to him before he gets on the ship.”

“There is also the fact that he is the right hand to Ahab—yes, he’s just the cabin boy but he’s the only one who sees Ahab that first week on the ship. Pip is the heart of that ship. He’s the one link that joins all these men and cultures together. He’s the pivotal character there. I find that fascinating. He’s a very complex character to play. I can’t just be some boy bopping around. He’s courageous for a 13-year-old boy. He’s on a whaling ship. No family—an uncertain future. There’s a lot of strength there.”

Pip’s scene while lost at sea is one that audiences will never forget. Pip’s insanity after being stranded in the ocean emphasizes his humanity. We may miss the point 160 years after Melville wrote * Moby Dick*.

Even now there is a residue of extreme and marginal opinions that consider African-Americans to be emotionally inferior. Melville wrote Pip as a character who feels and ultimately breaks.

In some ways, Pip never returns to the Pequod. He is gone and what remains is something of a Shakespearian fool.

Talise continued, “It’s not just that he’s gone mad, he seems to be seeing a different world. There is mysticism in it. It has been said that insanity can be the highest form of genius. Living in New York, you encounter people that are not quite right but every now and then you will hear them say something that is deep and not at all crazy. I see Pip in that way. He has become a shaman.

Moby Dick opens at the Civic Theater this Saturday at 7 pm.


Pip "lost in the heart of the sea"

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