After a couple of weeks rehearsing Ensemble Parallele's operatic production of The Great Gatsby at the very utilitarian Kanbar Center, the mostly online press were invited to a working rehearsal and a Q&A last Friday. Axel and the Opera Tattler have both written up the experience here and here, and the revival of John Harbison's 1999 Metropolitan Opera commission has been receiving quite a bit of coverage, and not just because I am a supernumerary playing Gatsby's majordomo on his Long Island estate.
For this first revival in a decade, the opera has been reorchestrated by Jacques Desjardins from 120 instruments to approximately 30, the opera's libretto has been streamlined by about thirty minutes, and the musical tempos during the many conversational scenes have been considerably speeded up by the conductor Nicole Paiement (above right, next to mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker playing golf star Jordan Baker).
In an unkind review of the 2000 Chicago Lyric Opera production, Lee Sandlin wrote about Jerry Hadley, the originator of the role of Gatsby, who walked away from his career after he last sang the role at the Metropolitan in 2002, five years before his eventual suicide.
"As for Jerry Hadley in the title role--I don't believe physical appearance should be the decisive factor in opera casting. Hadley's a fine singer and essentially alone in this production in being able to handle Harison's score with apparent ease. But he isn't Gatsby. Not for one nanosecond did I believe he was Fitzgerald's "elegant young roughneck...whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd" (a line that shows up in the libretto, with the word "young" discreetly omitted). In fact, you'd swear he was playing Wolfsheim; he strolls around the stage with the relaxed air of a Mafia don in retirement, whose only worry in life is a dogleg on the back nine."This won't be an issue with the Ensemble Parallele production on account of the relative youthfulness of the entire cast that matches the story, including above left tenor Marco Panuccio as Gatsby and above right soprano Susannah Biller, an authentic Tennessee belle, as Daisy Buchanan.
The uniformly excellent singers have so thoroughly inhabited their characters that we tend to avoid the tenor Dan Snyder above because he brings such a bracing meanness and sexiness to the polo playing adulterer, Tom Buchanan. He's one of a number of men who are growing 1920s moustaches for the production, and according to the Twitter feed on his website, "Day 4 growing a mustache for Tom Buchanan in Gatsby - got wolf whistled in The Castro on my way to rehearsal."
As usual, the real joy of being part of the production has been listening to the music come together under the leadership of the very gifted Nicole Paiement, who is seen above instructing the onstage jazz band that plays during the two large party scenes, complete with chorus and dancers. Paiement's work was aided immeasurably by the amazing rehearsal pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi, who zipped through the complex Harbison score every day as if it was child's play.
Now the work goes into high gear as we load into the Novellus Theatre in Yerba Buena Center and put all the components of orchestra, scenery, lighting, costumes, makeup, props and performers together before Friday's opening.