‘Gatsby’ opera comes to The City 

click to enlarge Classic story: Jason Detwiler and Susannah Biller appear in Ensemble Parallèle’s production of “The Great Gatsby.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Classic story: Jason Detwiler and Susannah Biller appear in Ensemble Parallèle’s production of “The Great Gatsby.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby,” brilliantly depicts the Roaring ’20s — the flappers, heiresses, millionaires and others trying to find their way through the daze of the age.

Reflecting its popularity are plentiful movie versions, made in 1926, 1949 (with Alan Ladd and Betty Field), 1974 (Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) and this year’s upcoming release directed by Baz Luhrmann and featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.

In 1999, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned John Harbison to write an opera based on the novel. This week, San Francisco’s path-breaking contemporary opera company Ensemble Parallele is producing the world premiere of San Francisco Conservatory of Music faculty member Jacques Desjardins’ chamber orchestration of the opera. Onstage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the project is a partnership with the Aspen Music Festival.

Desjardins, who reduced the Met orchestra from 100 to about one-third that to fit into the Yerba Buena production, says, “I imagined the process to be akin to the work of a translator, trying to stay as close as possible to the spirit of a novel in its original form. It was humbling and exhilarating to serve such a great work by such a great master.”

Musical director Nicole Paiement and production director Brian Staufenbiel already have presented first-class productions of rare avant-garde operas, including Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck,” Philip Glass’ “Orphée” and the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein “Four Saints in Three Acts.”

In Harbison’s opera, Gatsby, who pretends to have great wealth and social status, is actually a poor bootlegger. The role is being sung by lyric tenor Marco Panuccio from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Susannah Biller, an Adler Fellow, portrays Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby’s affection. Tenor Dan Snyder is cast as her husband, Tom Buchanan.

Former Adler Fellow Bojan Knezevic sings the role of George Wilson, mechanic and garage owner. Mezzo soprano Erin Neff is Wilson’s wife and Buchanan’s mistress.

Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor and the opera’s narrator, is sung by baritone Jason Detwiler, known for his work with Opera San José.

Harbison, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for composition, cites his most important influences as the Bach Cantatas, Stravinsky and jazz. Written in many genres, his pieces embrace jazz along with classical forms, and his music is distinguished by its invention and range.


The Great Gatsby

Presented by Ensemble Parallèle

Where: Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Feb. 12

Tickets: $35 to $85

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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