THE GREAT GATSBY OPERA By John Harbison
Opera Parallèle’s artistic team of Artistic Director/Conductor Nicole Paiement and Production Designer/Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel again collaborate on OP’s most ambitious production to date. The cast of 11 singers plus chorus and an orchestra of 30 are featured in an art deco inspired, multimedia staging of this conflict between old money, nouveau riche and working class Americans tangled in a downward spiral of decadence.
The original version of The Great Gatsby was commissioned in 1999 by the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate the 25th anniversary of James Levine as its musical director. John Harbison set to music his own libretto inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic 1925 portrait of the Jazz Age. Although The Great Gatsby is distinguished by exceptional invention and expressive range, due to its sheer size – 120-musician orchestra – it has been performed only twice, once by the MET and once by Chicago Lyric Opera.
Aware of the importance of Harbison’s work and the need to make it more accessible to performing groups, Opera Parallèle commissioned a re-orchestration of The Great Gatsby from 120 to 30 musicians. This commission was done in partnership with the Aspen Music Festival and the publisher, G. Schirmer Inc. Harbison, enthusiastic about the project, recommended Jacques Desjardins, who has worked on similar projects. Desjardins’ re-orchestration provides an intense, intimate audience experience of this masterwork.
This is the fourth major presentation of fully staged contemporary chamber operas by Opera Parallèle. Gatsby follows last year’s Orphée by Philip Glass, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in 2010 and Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar in 2007–all to acclaim from audiences and critics.
SUSANNAH BILLER (SOPRANO), DAISY BUCHANAN:
Was Eurydice in Opera Parallèle’s production of Phillip Glass’ Orphée and in the Schwabacher Summer Concert’s Orfeo ed Euridice. In 2010 she joined the roster of the San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows and has appeared with the company as Kätchen in Werther, and Kristina in The Makropulos Case. She is an alumna of the Merola Opera Program, where she sang Caterina (L’Amico Fritz), Musetta (La Bohème), Elvira (L’Italiana in Algeri), and Monica (The Medium). The winner of numerous awards, Ms. Biller made her professional debut singing Titania (Midsummer Night’s Dream) with Opera North and Opera Italia.
JASON DETWILER (BARITONE), NICK CARRAWAY:
Performed the role of Saint Plan in Opera Parallèle’s production of Four Saints in Three Acts.With over thirty lead roles to his credit, Detwiler has performed nationally with San Diego Opera, Virginia Opera, Syracuse Opera, Sacramento Opera, Opéra Louisiane, Spokane Opera, Shreveport Opera, Festival Opera, Rimrock Opera, Sonoma City Opera, West Bay Opera, Trinity Lyric Opera, Vallejo Symphony Orchestra, American Philharmonic Sonoma County, and the Boise Philharmonic. This season Detwiler returned to Opera Coeur d’Alene as Valentin (Faust), made his debut with San Jose Opera as Tonio (I Pagliacci), and will debut later this year with Opera Santa Barbara as Count Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro).
BOJAN KNEZEVIC (BASS-BARITONE), GEORGE WILSON:
Has appeared with over 20 major opera companies and symphonies worldwide in North America, Europe and Asia. A former Adler Fellow and Merola alumnus, he made his San Francisco Opera debut in 1995 and has appeared in numerous roles since, most recently as Ligniere in Cyrano De Bergerac. Some recent appearances include Johann in San Francisco Opera’s Werther; title roles in Opera Parallèle’s award-winning Wozzeck and New National Theatre in Tokyo’s Figaro; Lyric Opera of Chicago; Vancouver Opera; and as a soloist with San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony (Washington, DC), and at Carnegie Hall.
JOHN MINAGRO (BASS-BARITONE), HENRY GATZ:
Sang the role of General Howell Cobb in San Francisco Opera’s World Premier of Phillip Glass’ Appomattox, and performed the role of the Coroner in San Francisco Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess, soon to be released on DVD. He has appeared as a guest soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, and can be heard on the Grammy nominated operatic CD Corpus Evita singing the role of Juan Peron. For the past ten Decembers, Minagro has traveled to Osaka, Japan, performing at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
ERIN NEFF (MEZZO-SOPRANO), MYRTLE WILSON:
Made her solo debut with the San Francisco Opera as Blanche in their 2000 production of Louise and has returned to make several appearances including productions of Rigoletto, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and Simon Boccanegra. She has appeared with Opera Parallèle in Wozzeck, Berkeley Opera, Northbay Opera, Livermore Valley Opera, and Sacramento Opera. This summer she was a featured soloist at the Mendocino Music Festival and performed with concertmaster Roy Malan at the Telluride Chamber Music Festival. Her work as a multi-media artist will be featured next year at the inaugural opening of the Culver Center for the Arts in Riverside, California.
MARCO PANUCCIO (TENOR), JAY GATSBY:
Has performed extensively in the United States, Europe, Great Britain, and Asia. He recently appeared as Electrician in Thomas Adès’ Powder Her Face with Teatro Comunale di Bologna and Teatro Rossini in Lugo; Don José in Carmen with Opera Holland Park (UK); Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, both with Grange Park Opera (UK); the title role in Bernstein’s Candide with Münchner Philharmoniker (Germany); and Manrico in Il Trovatore with Portland Summerfest. He has also appeared with Cincinnati Opera; Florida Grand Opera; Lyric Opera of Chicago; New Orleans Opera; and an Italian Gala Concert with Beijing Symphony in China.
MARK ROBINSON, RADIO / BAND SINGER:
A jazz vocalist today, Robinson began his career as a classical singer, studying voice and music. He went on to perform in London, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston. Currently he can be seen performing at jazz venues in the San Francisco Bay Area. His recent collaborations have included some of the best artists on the local scene, including Alan Steger, Lee Bloom, Noel Jewkes and Fred Randolph. His latest recording is Some Small Dive with Breaking Even Records. Robinson has been the Features Editor of Wired Magazine since 2001. He oversees writers and editors who cover the impact of technology on everything from lock picking to Egyptian politics.
DANIEL SNYDER (TENOR), TOM BUCHANAN:
Performed this season as Cavaradossi in Tosca, with Boheme Opera New Jersey; Manrico in Il Trovatore with Astoria Oregon Summer Festival and Dexter in Heart of a Soldier, a world premiere and debut at San Francisco Opera. He has performed in Europe, Africa, and extensively in North America with Portland Summer Opera Festival, National Philharmonic; Opera Boston; Opera Theater of Pittsburgh; Xalapa Summer Music Festival; Seattle Symphony; and at Carnegie Hall with Saint Cecilia Oratorio Society. Before coming to the stage, he performed with the U.S. Army Chorus and has sung for presidents, Supreme Court justices and dignitaries of many nations.
ROGER MCCRACKEN (BASS), MEYER WOLFSHEIM:
Has performed leading roles with companies throughout the United States, including Opera San Luis Obispo, Eugene Opera, Opera Nevada, Pocket Opera, Opera San Jose, San Francisco Lyric, West Bay Opera, Tulsa, New Orleans, North Bay Opera, Livermore Valley Opera, and Festival Opera. His signature roles include Don Pasquale, Kezal in The Bartered Bride, Sarastro in Rigoletto, Sparafucile, Don Basilio in II Barbiere di Siviglia, Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Colline in La Boheme. He recently sang Don Bartolo in San Luis Obispo’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and the role of Caudal in Opera Lab’s recent presentation of Massenet’s Sapho.
JULIENNE WALKER (MEZZO-SOPRANO), JORDAN BAKER:
Received her Bachelors of Music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She is currently working on her master’s degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she has performed the roles of Bessie in Mahagonny Songspiel, Bradamante in Alicina, and Soeur Mathilde in Dialogues of the Carmelites. Other roles include Berta in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with The Music Academy of the West, Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera for Morningside Opera in New York, Jo in Little Women, as well as Mere Jeanne in Dialogues of the Carmelites.
CARRIE ZHANG (MEZZO-SOPRANO), TANGO SINGER:
Recently sang in the American Premier of Philippe Hersant’s Wanderung at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Last year, Ms. Zhang performed the roles of Marzelline in Fidelio and Damigella in L’incoronazione di Poppea as a part of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s opera scenes program. A divisional winner at the NATS festival in 2010, Ms. Zhang holds a degree from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and is currently completing her Bachelor’s degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
JOHN HARBISON, COMPOSER:
Is among America’s most prominent artistic figures. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation’s genius award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities. Harbison has composed music for most of this country’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera (for which he wrote The Great Gatsby), the Chicago Lyric Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Santa Fe and Aspen festivals. His works include four string quartets, five symphonies, a ballet, three operas, and numerous chamber and choral works.
Harbison was born in New Jersey in 1938 into a musical family. He was improvising on the piano by five years of age and started a jazz band at age 12. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and earned an MFA from Princeton University. Harbison joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he has received numerous awards including Institute Professor, the highest academic distinction MIT offers to resident faculty. Furthering the work of younger composers is one of Harbison’s prime interests, and he serves as president of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
In recent years, Harbison has revived his career as a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. He took a jazz sabbatical for four decades, returning in 2003 to found the Token Creek Jazz Ensemble in Wisconsin. He serves as artistic director of the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, founded in 1989 with his wife Rose Mary and held on the family farm in Wisconsin, where much of Harbison’s music has been composed. Schirmer.com
JACQUES DESJARDINS, THE GREAT GATSBY CHAMBER OPERA COMPOSER:
Has received commissions from ensembles in the United States and Canada. His music has also been performed in Europe. John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby is his first commission to re-orchestrate a major opera. Of the experience, he says the following: “I found myself reading the mind of Harbison and trying to re-create as faithfully as possible his original intention. 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.” Desjardins is a faculty member at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he teaches Music Theory and Musicianship, and also serves as assistant conductor of the New Music Ensemble. Desjardins is the General Manager of Ensemble Parallèle.
NICOLE PAIEMENT, CONDUCTOR / ARTISTIC DIRECTOR:
Is the founder of Opera Parallèle. With the ensemble, Paiement has recorded world premiere performances, commissioned new works from international composers, collaborated with dancers and media artists, and toured internationally. Paiement is an active guest conductor both in the US and abroad. She made her Korean debut in 2004 conducting the world premiere of Chan-Hae Lee’s opera Back to the Origins and Nicola Le Fanu’s Old Woman of Beare. In March, she will join the Dallas Opera to conduct performances of Peter Maxwell Davies’s The Lighthouse. Paiement is also the artistic director of the BluePrint Project, a new music series offered by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; BluePrint has collaborated with various Bay Area organizations including the Pacific Rim Festival, Asian Art Museum, Other Minds Festival, and International Women Composers Festival. In addition, Paiement is director of ensembles at UC Santa Cruz and artistic director of the SFCM New Music Ensemble, with which she has recorded and commissioned many works.
BRIAN STAUFENBIEL, CONCEPT AND STAGE DIRECTOR:
Has helmed the direction and design of Opera Parallèle’s productions since 2007. As a guest director, Staufenbiel has worked on productions both around the Bay Area and internationally. In 2010 Staufenbiel’s direction of Madame Butterfly for Festival Opera in Walnut Creek garnered critical attention for its deft use of shadow puppet theater and intimate staging. Staufenbiel returned to Festival Opera this past July to direct a production of The Most Happy Fella. In 2009 he collaborated with new-music proponents Composers, Inc. to direct the world premiere of Allen Shearer’s The Dawn Makers. As guest director at the Sherbrooke Summer Music Festival, Staufenbiel has directed works by Arthur Honegger and Maurice Ravel. In 2007 he directed their semi-staged version of Handel’s Jephtha. Staufenbiel has also directed at the Seoul Contemporary Opera Company, for the Korean premiere of David Jones’s Bardos and the reprise of Chan-Hae Lee’s Back to the Origins. Staufenbiel is a voice faculty and the director of the opera program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
MATTHEW ANTAKY, SCENIC AND LIGHTING DESIGNER:
Since 1985 Mr. Antaky has created and collaborated on both scenic and lighting designs for the performing arts including opera, dance, music and theater. He is a seven-time nominee and four-time recipient of the Isadora Duncan award for outstanding visual design. Mr. Antaky has designed for many dance companies, including ODC Dance, Liss Fain Dance Company, Oklahoma Ballet, RAW Dance, Flyaway Productions, Robert Moses Kin, Mark Foehringer Dance Project, SJDanceCO, Lily Cai Dance, Li Chiao-Ping, Smuin Ballet, Amy Seiwert’s Im’ij-re Dance and Zhukov Dance Theater. His designs for opera and music have been seen at Utah Opera and Symphony, Opera Pacific, Festival Opera, Oakland Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Opera San Jose, The Cabrillo Music Festival and the San Francisco World Music Festival. The Great Gatsby marks his fourth collaboration with Opera Parallèle, having designed their productions of Young Caesar, Wozzeck, Orphée and most recently, Four Saints in Three Acts.
FRÉDÉRIC O. BOULAY, DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION:
Has worked in opera, symphony, theatre, dance and circus as director of production, project manager, technical director, and rigger in more than two hundred fifty productions in France and the United States since 1989. Recently, he has worked with Opera Parallèle on Four Saints in Three Acts, Orphée, and Wozzeck, and with Festival Opera, Opera San José, Opera Birmingham, Santa Barbara Opera, Lamplighters Music Theatre, Oakland East Bay Symphony, World Music Festival, and Cirque du Soleil. A native of France, he holds an MBA from the University of Utah.
CHRISTINE CROOK, COSTUME DESIGNER:
Has an MFA in costume design from the University of California, San Diego where her design credits include The Seagull, Topdog Underdog, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, and The Misanthrope. In addition to Opera Parallèle, Crook has designed in the Bay Area for Just Theatre (1001), Berkeley Playhouse (Oliver!), Willows Theatre (Dearly Beloved, The Secret Garden), Reflective Films (Opal), and Shotgun Players (In the Wound, Travesties, Owners, Cryptogram, The Just). She has served as assistant designer in productions at La Jolla Playhouse, Aurora Theatre Company, and the University of California, Berkeley’s Zellerbach Playhouse.
AUSTIN FORBORD, VIDEO ARTIST:
Won the Isadora Duncan award in 2006 for his design contribution to Deborah Slater’s Hotel of Memories. In addition to Opera Parallèle, he has created video designs for many performing groups including the Joe Goode Performance Group, Robert Moses’ Kin and Sara Shelton Mann/Contraband. Forbord is responsible for the critically acclaimed full-length documentary, Artists in Exile: A Story of Modern Dance in San Francisco. His second feature-length documentary, Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco–commissioned by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation—premiered last April at the Riverside International Film Festival. He is the Executive Artistic Director of RAPT Productions.
SHAUN CARROLL, PROPS ARTISAN:
Shaun Carroll is the resident props designer for the Willows Theatre Company in Concord, California. He has also designed props for Foothill Theatre Company, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Capital Stage Company, Festival Opera, and Opera Santa Barbara. Mr. Carroll began his career running props with Walt Disney’s World on Ice and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.
JEANNA PARHAM, WIG / MAKEUP ARTIST:
Began her career in San Jose where she designed for many South Bay theaters. Since moving to San Francisco, in addition to Opera Parallèle, she has been creating designs for the American Conservatory Theater; TheatreWorks; Broadway by the Bay; Alameda Civic Light Opera; University of California Santa Cruz; Opera Theater; and Sacramento Civic Light Opera. She also works regularly as guest designer for many other companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
TOM SEGAL, CHOREOGRAPHER:
Has been choreographing, performing and directing dance, theater, musical theater and opera in the Bay Area and beyond for over thirty years. During his fifteen-year career as a professional dancer, Segal performed with dance companies throughout the United States and abroad, including the San Francisco Opera Ballet Corps, Dance Through Time National Touring Company, Radcliff Dance Theatre of Atlanta and Karmon National Folk Ballet of Israel. He has been the recipient of numerous awards in the dance and musical theater arena, including two Dean Goodman/Dramalogue Choice Awards; three Arty Awards; a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award; and was named “Outstanding Choreographer” by the National Association of Ballet. Segal is also a founding board member of Keys to Achievement, an international piano education program for low-income children.
Nick Carraway, a stockbroker who lives on West Egg, Long Island, visits old acquaintances from the Middle West, his distant cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband, Tom, a wealthy sportsman, at their East Egg estate, across Manhasset Bay. Also present is Jordan Baker, a professional golfer and Daisy’s girlhood friend, whom Daisy introduces to Nick in hopes of making a match between them. When Jordan mentions Gatsby (who lives next door to Nick), Daisy becomes flustered. Nick compliments the ladies, but Tom interrupts with his theories about civilization’s decline. When the phone rings, Tom goes to answer it, followed anxiously by Daisy. Alone with Nick, Jordan reveals that Tom has a woman in New York. Daisy and Tom, somewhat ill at ease, return to the drawing room, and he takes Jordan to see his polo ponies. While they are gone, Daisy discloses to Nick that she is unhappy, because Tom mistreats her, and though she has become “sophisticated,” she misses the “old, warm world” of her youth in Louisville. Returning from the stables, Jordan reads aloud from The Saturday Evening Post. Nick expresses some misgivings about Eastern society, and Tom wonders who Gatsby is. The phone rings again.
About halfway between West Egg and New York, the commuter train stops at a “valley of ashes.” Tom drags a reluctant Nick to a nearby garage to meet Myrtle, whose husband, George Wilson, owns the place. Tom sends Wilson on an errand. Myrtle appears, and she and Tom dance to the radio. She describes her first meeting with Tom to Nick, who becomes increasingly embarrassed. Myrtle’s insistence on talking about Daisy angers Tom, who hits her, bloodying her nose, then leaves.
In the early evening, Gatsby stands on his vast lawn, looking across the bay at a green light on Daisy’s peer. He goes inside, and waiters, caterers, musicians and guests begin arriving for a party. Nick is among the guests; he dances with Jordan, the only person he knows at the party. They speculate about their mysterious host, then mingle separately. Nick begins talking to a man with whom he reminisces about the War; the stranger turns out to be Gatsby. About to ask Nick for a favor, Gatsby is called to the phone, and Jordan rejoins Nick. Sometime later, Gatsby comes outside again but remains apart. The party intensifies until sounds of an automobile crash disperse the crowd. In the ensuing confusion, a businessman with shady connections, Meyer Wolfshiem, appears; finding Gatsby, he tells him that their business ventures in Philadelphia and Detroit are in trouble and their debts must be paid in full. Shrugging off this unpleasant news, Gatsby sends him away. Turning to Nick, Gatsby asks his favor: could Nick arrange a meeting with Daisy? Nick leaves him alone by the dock. Gazing at Daisy’s green light, Gatsby recalls their love five years ago in Louisville and confidently plans to win her back.
Nick has arranged a meeting between his neighbor and Daisy at his cottage. He and Jordan play a game of trying to name Gatsby’s guests. Before departing, she tells Nick how Gatsby and Daisy fell in love, despite her parents’ disapproval. While Gatsby was fighting in World War I, Daisy married Tom. Gatsby arrives, nervous and distracted, and waits for what seems an eternity to him. When Daisy’s horn is heard outside, he slips away, then returns, pretending casually to have dropped by. Gatsby and Daisy remain almost silent, and Nick withdraws. Gradually, the former lovers re-establish their old feelings for each other. Standing at the window, they admire Gatsby’s grand house across the lawn; he begins wildly to plan their future and invites her to tour the mansion. When Nick returns, they barely notice.
At another of Gatsby’s parties, rumors about his past run rampant. The Buchanans arrive, and Tom is introduced to Gatsby. Gatsby dances with Daisy while a band vocalist sings. Seeing Nick, Gatsby excuses himself, leaving Daisy to dance by herself. Gatsby worries aloud to Nick that she isn’t having a good time. Nick cautions him that the past cannot be repeated, and Gatsby goes into the house. Daisy asks Nick to distract her husband so that she can be alone with Gatsby, who tries to convince her that they can recapture the glow of their past relationship. Meanwhile, Nick defends his friend to a skeptical Tom, who is looking for his wife. Rumors about Gatsby’s shady business continue to be heard among the guests. When Tom finds Daisy and Gatsby, he invites the latter to their house the following Sunday.
On a hot afternoon at the Buchanans’, Daisy and Jordan — in white dresses — recline on chaises longues, listening to the radio, while Nick and Gatsby make nervous conversation. Daisy flirts with Gatsby, annoying her husband. When she suggests they all go into the city to escape the heat, Tom says he’ll drive Gatsby’s yellow car, telling the latter to take his blue coupé. Daisy decides to go with Gatsby. Tom vents his anger to Jordan and Nick.
Daisy, Gatsby, Tom, Nick and Jordan take a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Sounds from a wedding downstairs make Daisy think of her own nuptials in Louisville. When Tom begins to challenge Gatsby, Daisy turns on her husband, seeming to take his rival’s part. Confronted with Gatsby’s assertion that Daisy never loved him, Toms recalls the things that bind them together, forcing her to choose between them. Indecisive, Daisy longs for her simpler past. The two men try to persuade her, until she finally decides to stay with Tom. When she pleads to go home, Tom, exultant, contemptuously tells Daisy to return to Long Island with Gatsby in his yellow car, as Tom has nothing to fear. Nick suddenly remembers it is his thirtieth birthday.
That night, at Wilson’s garage, Myrtle looks out the window at the road; she is lonely and longs for Tom. Her husband, suspicious and grim, works on his cars. Both feel desperately trapped in their marriage and in this place. Thinking she sees Tom, whom she saw at the garage that afternoon in a new yellow car, Myrtle rushes out. A crash is heard. Tom, Nick and Jordan, on their way back to Long Island, drive up to see what has happened and learn that Myrtle has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Her body is brought into the garage. Tom identifies Gatsby as the owner of the yellow car. Wilson, grieving, is determined to find the driver.
Early the next morning, movers carry furniture out of Gatsby’s house. Nick and Jordan arrive; as they look for Gatsby, she observes that all their dreams are over. He appears, and she leaves. When Nick accuses Gatsby of leaving the scene of the accident, he reveals that Daisy was behind the wheel of the car. After confirming his reluctant sympathy with Gatsby and his dreams, Nick departs. As Gatsby waits for Daisy to signal him with the green light, he recalls his youth and his love for her. Wilson appears and shoots Gatsby, killing him.
Nick and Jordan meet at Gatsby’s house, before his funeral. Since their relationship has been neither deep nor destructive, they agree to go their separate ways without regret, and Jordan departs. Wolfshiem drops by and looks around to assure himself that the house is “clean,” leaving before the funeral. Gatsby’s father arrives and introduces himself to Nick. The simple old man, awed by the splendor of the house, proudly produces his son’s youthful manual of self-improvement, from which he and Nick read. Partygoers come, but finding no party, they move on, as a minister arrives to conduct a brief service, with only Nick and Gatsby’s father present. After the funeral, Nick is left alone to reflect on what has happened. Daisy’s green light is all that is visible.