Access Opera: Everest

Welcome to the Everest Education Resources page!

by Joby Talbot

Austin Opera’s season continues with the company premiere of Everest in January 2020.  This opera, with music by Joby Talbot and libretto by Gene Scheer, tells the tale of one of the deadliest years in recorded history, 1996, at Mount Everest.

Everest Final Dress Rehearsal
January 21, 2020 – 7:00 PM Long Center for the Performing Arts
Registration for tickets begins Wednesday, November 20, 2019
RECOMMENDED for MS & HS students
(two offensive words, intense life-threatening situations, death)

Joby Talbot, composer, was born on August 25, 1971, in Wimbledon, London.  Wimbledon is home to the All England Club, most know for the prestigious Wimbledon Tennis tournament.  As a young musician, Talbot played the piano and oboe.  He has written music in a broad range of styles for many different purposes, including vocal and instrumental concert music, TV and film scores, pop music arrangements and works for dance.

Talbot’s critically acclaimed first opera, Everest, was given its premiere in 2015 by The Dallas Opera.  This one-act opera is based on the tragic climbing disaster on Mount Everest in 1996.

Joby Talbot’s Website

Wikipedia Biography

IMDb Mini Bio

Composer Joby Talbot on the Many Musical Influences in the movie SING
In a movie about a singing competition, the music becomes a character all its own.  Talbot’s task was to weave together a score amidst a story featuring over 100 songs made popular by artists from Aerosmith to Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Joby Talbot Climbs into New Territory in Dallas Opera Premiere
An article published in 2015 about Joby Talbot’s premiere of the opera Everest.  Written by Catherine Womack for D Magazine.

Gene Scheer, an American songwriter, librettist, and lyricist, was born in New York City on April 28, 1958.  He received his Bachelor of Music and Masters of Music degrees at the Eastman School of Music.

Gene Scheer website

Gene Scheer biography
A biography of librettist Gene Scheer, from his website.

Gene Scheer Wikipedia

NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, September 12, 2004
Listen to a story about Gene Scheer’s composition “American Anthem,” a patriotic song premiered at the Smithsonian Institution’s unveiling ceremony for the restored “Star-Spangled Banner” flag in 1999.  It was sung by Denyce Graves.  The song has also been performed at two presidential inaugurations.

Denyce Graves singing American Anthem
A moving patriotic composition, with words and music by Gene Scheer

From the shadows of Mount Everest, the spirits of all those who have died attempting to reach the summit sing to Beck Weathers, who is unconscious on the mountain’s South Col*. These ethereal spirits now turn their attention to Rob Hall, the expedition leader and guide, who is just reaching Everest’s highest peak at 2:30 p.m., thirty minutes past the safe turnaround time. Rob sees his client Doug Hansen a mere forty feet below.

The scene shifts back to Beck Weathers. In his unconscious, dreamlike state, the stranded climber hallucinates that he is in his backyard enjoying a Texas barbecue. Beck holds court and begins to describe his experiences on Everest. Suddenly, from the edge of Beck’s consciousness, the voice of his daughter Meg sings to him.

As we see Rob straining to help Doug reach the summit, time stops and Doug sings an aria in which he describes the tormenting deep-seated obsession that has led him to this moment. Rob takes a picture of Doug at the instant he has achieved his goal, and the guide is jarred by the memory of photographing his pregnant wife, Jan, before leaving their home in New Zealand for the Himalayas.

While Rob endeavors to get his client down from the summit of Everest, we see Beck lying, delirious, on the South Col. Once again, his daughter calls out to him in vain. From the depths of his consciousness, ruminations on his struggle with profound depression slowly merge with the memory of the events that took place on the climb earlier that same day.

Rob is increasingly desperate. He has a disabled client on the top of the mountain as the storm begins raging around them both. Jan, Rob’s wife, is contacted and told of her husband’s life-threatening situation.

Beck, beginning to emerge from his coma, sees the climbers on the South Col huddling together in a frantic attempt to survive the storm. Beck’s internal soliloquy slowly allows him to make sense of what is happening, and to comprehend the cold, hard truth: he is dying.

In a quartet, Doug, Rob, Jan and Beck sing of their plight. As the quartet concludes, we see Rob propelling Doug toward a sheltered spot on the South Summit, where he hopes they can make it through the night.

Beck has finally awakened to the harsh reality that, if he is going to survive another hour, he will have to save himself.

*The South Col is a mountain pass often used as the location for Camp IV, the final stop in the push to reach the summit.

Andrew Bidlack, tenor
Rob Hall

“I enjoy doing new work, because it’s vital to say something to audiences about where we are now. Creating a role gives me a new level of confidence as a singer — I find I’m not as daunted by the challenges of the nineteenth-century repertory. But Everest was singular in every sense of the word. At the end of the opera, there’s an emotionally devastating scene in which Rob, who knows he won’t make it back, talks to his wife [by phone] for the last time, and he names their new daughter. I was thirty-five when I sang that, just about the age Rob was when he died, and I have a daughter who is two now. But if I had put too much of my own experience into that scene, it would have been impossible to sing. Everest was only seventy minutes long, but it was intense.” – Opera News, Oct. 2015

Craig Verm, baritone
Doug Hansen

Interview with Craig Verm from the Tulsa Opera

Kevin Burdette, bass
Beck Weathers

An Interview with Kevin Burdette from Opera Philadelphia

Q: Why do you like to sing?

“I have always enjoyed performing, in part, I think, because it got me attention that, as the youngest child of five children, I might not otherwise have gotten. I am told that one of my tricks when I was 3 and a half years old was to jump on my rocking horse and sing, at full throat, “Oh what a beautiful morning” from Oklahoma!. That desire to entertain has remained with me – I love to hear the audience laugh!” – Kevin Burdette

Heather Johnson, mezzo soprano
Jan Arnold

Meet Heather Johnson – 2012 Interview with White Bear Press News

Matthew Treviño, bass
Guy Cotter

Matthew Treviño sings Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns


Music: Joby Talbot
Libretto: Gene Scheer
Conductor: Joseph Mechavich*
Stage Director: Leonard Foglia*
Projection Design: Elaine J. McCarthy
Lighting Design: Kathryn Eader
Production owned by The Dallas Opera
Costumes by The Dallas Opera Costume Shop

Sung in English, with English supertitles

The Everest Opera on Opening Night
An article about the opera Everest, written by Michael Mooney for Outside Magazine, February 18, 2015.

“In the spring of 1996, this magazine sent Jon Krakauer to Everest in search of a story.  There, Krakauer was caught in a deadly blizzard that killed eight people.  Five months later, Outside published his firsthand report of the disaster, which was followed in 1997 by the award-winning book Into Thin Air.”

The Cold Wrath of Nature, Given Operatic Voice
A story from NPR, February 7, 2015

Talbot used percussion instruments to convey the cracking rocks and ice. At certain points, the groaning mountain is evoked by bass drum rubbed with an inflated rubber ball.  “And then, with one of the other bass drums, we’ve taped double bass strings to the underside of the bass drum so when you hit it, they rattle like a huge snare drum,” Talbot explains. He adds with a laugh, “I’m giving you all my trade secrets.”

REVIEW: Everest scales new heights in innovative opera
A review from the Calgary Herald, February 2019

Talbot’s music is neo-romantic rather than avant-garde, the music frequently tonal, with harmony playing an important role, and with many orchestral effects drawn from the world of film music (something Talbot is familiar with).

OPERA NEWS – In Review: Everest
Scheer’s libretto skillfully lays out the central catastrophe while addressing the question the catastrophe inevitably raises: why would anyone undertake such a risky venture? In providing answers, the text occasionally veers into over-explicitness (“Darkness has followed me/ My whole adult life”). But Everest grounds its story in real human feeling. By eliciting sympathy for its four central figures (Hall, his wife, Jan, and two of the climbers, Doug Hanson and Beck Weathers), it also creates real suspense: we care enough about these people to wish for their survival, even as we see fate moving inexorably against them. Through it all, a spectral chorus offers commentary; by the opera’s end, we realize that these are the ghosts of climbers who have died on Everest.

REVIEW: Hardy Opera Buffs Cheer Climbers in Harrowing Everest by Bill Rankin
A review from Classical Voice North America – Journal of the Music Critics Association of North America

Librettist Gene Scheer, who was also the librettist for Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick (premiered in 2010 by Dallas Opera and remounted by Calgary Opera, as a co-producer, in 2012), found a poetic simplicity for his text. Some of the storyline is in the characters’ minds, in flashbacks and moments of mental disorientation; Sheer wed the material reality of the crisis to these more amorphous, philosophical strands, with a fine mixture of mundane detail and elevated reflection.


Calgary Opera trailer for the Canadian premiere of Everest
This video shares information about the orchestration for this opera, including a clip from the orchestra’s first read of the score.

The Aluphone (from Wikipedia)
Read about the aluphone, a new instrument is used in the orchestration for Talbot’s Everest.

The Aluphone
An introduction to the aluphone, a new percussion instrument used in the orchestration for Talbot’s Everest.

The Aluphone at the 2011 PASIC conference

Evelyn Glennie plays the Aluphone
Percussionist Evelyn Glennie has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12, which forced her to develop her ability to hear through the rest of her body. She initially honed this ability by feeling the wall in her music room in high school as her percussion teacher tuned a timpani. “I could feel the vibrations in my hands and lower parts of my legs, so I got the pitch that way,” she told Modern Drummer in 1989. “I can also put my fingertips on the edge and feel it that way. There are countless ways of really hearing a particular instrument.”

The Dallas Opera trailer for the World Premiere of Everest

Mount Everest Southeast Ridge Route in 3D

CNN Report – Why Mount Everest is becoming deadlier, 2019

2019 Mt. Everest Climb
American mountaineer, Woody Hartman, summited Mt Everest on May 23, 2019, amidst the now infamous traffic jams. This movie tells the story of his expedition, from desert training to a tearful farewell.

10 Facts About the Tragic Everest Climb Not in the Movie – Everest
CAUTION: This video contains images that might be disturbing to some people. See photos of “real” life people depicted in the opera, Everest.

Everest – Getting to the Top | National Geographic
50 years ago, James Whittaker, accompanied by Sherpa Nawang Gombu, became the first American to reach the summit of Everest by climbing the Southeast Ridge, the same route pioneered in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Today, hundreds of climbers each season brave crevasses, crowds, and corpses to make it to the top of Everest.

Breathtaking Look at the Man Who Climbed Everest 21 Times | National Geographic
Every spring, Mount Everest draws in people from around the world to conquer its peak. Despite the riches surrounding the highest point on Earth, the Sherpa people who live in its shadow remain poor with few educational opportunities. One man hoping to change this reality is Apa Sherpa, a child of the Khumbu and world-record holder for summiting Everest. Like many before him, Apa Sherpa was pulled from home at the age of 12 to work on the mountain as a high-altitude porter. Now, the Apa Sherpa Foundation is working to create a different future for the children of Nepal. As Apa says, “without education, we have no choice.”

The Call of Everest | National Geographic – 2013
CAUTION: This video contains images that might be disturbing to some people.
Fifty years ago, Americans summited Mount Everest for the first time. To celebrate this anniversary, climbers Conrad Anker and Emily Harrington, writer Mark Jenkins, and naturalist Alton Byers meet to discuss the history and future of the world’s highest peak.

Mount Everest for Kids!
A fact-filled video for kids on the biggest mountain on Earth, MOUNT EVEREST! Follow Mr. DeMaio and friends as they learn a ton of cool facts about Mount Everest including how big it is, what it’s made of, how it got its name, and more!

Why is Mount Everest so tall? – TED-Ed
At 8,850 meters above sea level, Qomolangma, also known as Mount Everest, has the highest altitude on the planet. But how did this towering formation get so tall? Michele Koppes peers deep into our planet’s crust, where continental plates collide, to find the answer.

Mount Everest – fun Fact Series

The Time I Climbed Mt. Everest
Meet Jordan Romero, the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest.

Geography for Kids: Top of the World – Mount Everest

The mountain was named after George Everest, the surveyor of India. In all probability, Sir George Everest never once laid eyes on the mountain that was named after him.

Edmund Hillary Conquers Mount Everest – a Scholastic Lesson with Activities & Games
This online learning activity offers students a comprehensive look at the historic first climb of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay. It incorporates reading activities, lessons in geography and history, and more.

23 Amazing Mount Everest Facts That Will SHOCK You!
Spiders on Everest? The Himalayan jumping spiders are the highest permanent residents of the earth, aside from a few species of birds.

Everest Facts for Kids 
Updated January 2019 – Find out lots of fun facts about Everest; categories include Geography, Weather, History, Summit data, Climbing info and all about Sherpas.

35 Interesting Facts About Mount Everest
Did you know?  It takes an average of 39-40 days to climb Mount Everest from its base camp. This does not include the time spent trekking to base camp, which is between 10 to 14 days. The entire expedition takes six to nine weeks.

7 Little Known Facts About Mt. Everest
Everest is not actually the tallest mountain on the planet. Check out the facts here.

Finally Ready to Confront Everest After Fatal Climb of 1996
Neal Beidleman talks about returning to Everest after serving as a guide under Scott Fischer in May 1996 when a raging storm overtook two climbing teams high on the mountain.

Scientists find signs of pollution, warming around Mount Everest
This article explains how pollution and climate change will probably make climbing Mt. Everest more difficult in the future.

Getting Started with Mountaineering
REI Coop website article with great information explaining
* What is mountaineering and what does it entail?
* Snow Travel Techniques
* How to use an ice ax
* Using Crampons
* Roped glacier travel
* Navigating crevasses and whiteouts
* How to start training – Physical preparation & Mental preparation
* Essential Gear for Mountaineering

Alpenglow Expedition Equipment List 2018
Mount Everest climbers need a lot of specialized gear, including clothing, tools, and supplies. This list provides an idea of the amount of equipment required.

Choosing High Altitude Boots
A detailed explanation of the different kinds of climbing boots.

What is a “carabiner”?

Climbing in Snow
This website explains in detail how to climb in both soft and firn snow.
Firn is a type of show that has been leftover from past seasons and is partially compacted, between snow and glacial ice.

How to draw and color Mount Everest (Himalayas Mountains)
A cool video tutorial for creating your own Everest art!

Everest rubbish turned into art
Eight tons of litter left on Mount Everst has been turned into 75 works of art.

Art made of Mt. Everest trash

The Physics of Rock Climbing
A short video explains the physics surrounding rock climbing.