The Great Gatsby

Ensemble Parallèle's The Great Gatsby

Marco Pannucio, Susannah Biller, Julienne Walker, Jason Detwiler

* 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.

Ensemble Parallèle's Great Gatsby Preview


* Notes *
A sneak preview of Ensemble Parallèle's next production, The Great Gatsby, was held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last week. Conductor Nicole Paiement took us through several musical examples with pianist Keisuke Nakogoshi and six of the cast members. Susannah Biller (pictured above as Daisy Buchanan, photograph by Rapt), Jason Detwiler (Nick Carraway), Marco Panuccio (Jay Gatsby), Erin Neff (Myrtle Wilson), Daniel Snyder (Tom Buchannan), and Julienne Walker (Jordan Baker) looked and sounded utterly comfortable, despite the fact that rehearsals had only started the day before.

Jacques Desjardins, who has re-orchestrated John Harbison's work for chamber orchestra, was on hand to speak about the challenges of this undertaking. The number of musicians has been taken from 120 down to 30. The music is brass heavy, and Desjardins has had to use woodwinds to make up for this in the chamber version. The harp part also presented an interesting problem, as the sound of the instrument is so particular.

Director Brian Staufenbiel also gave us a glimpse of the set design and the concepts behind some of the stage elements. His style seems to be stylized rather than descriptive. One does look forward to seeing and hearing the piece. Three performances are presented between Friday, February 10 to Sunday, February 12 at the Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

* Tattling *
There was light talking and some electronic noise.

BluePrint: North and South

NicolePaiementRogerSteenBW* Notes *
The tenth season of the BluePrint project opened yesterday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The concert started with John Harbison's North and South, with mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker. The New Music Ensemble sounded clear and together under the expert direction of Maestra Nicole Paiement (pictured left, photograph by Roger Steen). Walker's voice is steely but flexible. The songs are jazzy and accessible. This was followed by Kurt Rohde's rather charming Concertino for Solo Violin and Small Ensemble (2010). The soloist, Axel Strauss, played nimbly with the ensemble. The piece is humorous, and the movements are all aptly named.

Erwin Schulhoff's Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Opus 43 was most impressive, especially the soloist, Keisuke Nakagoshi. The Allegro alla Jazz was played with vibrancy, and it was wonderful to hear how much fun everyone was having. The concert ended with an excerpt from Harbison's The Great Gatsby, arranged for chamber orchestra by Jacques Desjardins. The singers, mezzo-soprano Erin Neff as Myrtle and baritone Bojan Knezevic as Wilson, are both strong performers with beautiful voices. The duet they sang was semi-staged in that Neff fell to the ground, which struck me as slightly strange. Knezevic's accent was noticeable in words like "pretty" and "worrying," but he and Neff were easy to understand without looking at the text provided in the program. There certainly is much to look forward to in Ensemble Parallèle's production of the opera, which is scheduled for February 2012.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rather silent, only a few whispers and rustles were heard. During the ovation for the Rohde piece, I realized we had been seated next to the composer, and could not stop laughing over this. Two loud beeps were heard during the Alla marcia maestoso of the Schulhoff.