Ensemble Parallèle's The Great Gatsby
February 11, 2012
* Notes *
A chamber version of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (Act II, Scene 3 with Marco Pannucio, Susannah Biller, Julienne Walker, Jason Detwiler, and Daniel Snyder pictured right; photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) from Ensemble Parallèle opened last night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The ambitious reorchestration was undertaken by composer Jacques Desjardins, using 30 musicians instead of 80, and will be presented at the Aspen Music Festival this August. The opera has been cut down to 2 hours and 10 minutes, but does not seem rushed or undescriptive.
The music is rather difficult, and conductor Nicole Paiement had kept everyone together, at least for the most part. Director Brian Staufenbiel put forth a bold production, employing much videography and period dance. The many scene changes were smooth, and there were only a few odd moments, notably between Act I Scenes 1 and 2, and in Act II Scenes 5 and 6. One can appreciate how challenging it is to put forth this familiar story that has been visually represented in more than one film. Matthew Antaky's set is stylish, but at times the singers seemed rather far upstage, and this effected how well they could be heard.
The cast is strong, featuring those who can both act and sing. The diction was all perfectly comprehensible. Mark Robinson and Carrie Zhang had some of the simpler, lyrical music as Radio/Band and Tango Singers. Erin Neff and Bojan Knežević made fine contributions as Myrtle and George Wilson. Knežević was terrifying yet sympathetic when Myrtle is killed. Julienne Walker (Jordan Baker) was a good foil for Susannah Biller (Daisy Buchanan), physically and vocally. Jason Dewiler made for a likeable Nick Carraway, ever patient as he observed. Daniel Snyder (Tom Buchanan) sounded a bit choked in the first half of the opera, but seemed in better voice after the intermission. In the title role, Marco Pannucio gave a heartfelt, but somewhat strained, performance. Susannah Biller sparkled as Daisy Buchanan, her bright sound had a certain lovely ease to it.
* Tattling *
The woman in Row E Seat 106 arrived only a few minutes before curtain, and had to step over us to leave the hall after the opera's second scene. She returned between Act I Scenes 3 and 4, squeezing by and speaking to her date during the orchestral interlude.
Some men behind Row J of the Orchestra Right section talked loudly during Gatsby's final aria, and someone had to ask them to be quiet.