Going full Gatsby
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Of all works of American literature to bring back to the public arena this year, F. Scott Fitzgerald ’s The Great Gatsby, with its capering rich, was perhaps the most unlikely. But Ensemble Parallele was again doing the work of arts angels last weekend when they presented the world premiere of Jacques Desjardins ’ chamber orchestration of John Harbison ’s opera The Great Gatsby at the Novellus Theater in SF.
The Jazz Age, with its high life for the upper classes and utter drear for everyone else, is not too far a stretch from today’s economic inequalities, and this chamber Gatsby makes that case convincingly in its luxurious scenery (designer Matthew Antaky), costumes (designer Christine Crook ) and video projections (artist Austin Forbord). Harbison’s score, brought vividly to life by artistic director Nicole Paiement and her orchestra, is full of jazz phrasing and flights of operatic flair. The principal parts were sung with feeling and commitment, led by lyric tenor Marco Panuccio as Gatsby, baritone Jason Detwiler as Nick Carraway and soprano Susannah Biller as Daisy Buchanan. Desjardins’ orchestration retains all of the sparkle of the opera’s original edition while making some judicious cuts. We’re not sure why the world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera was greeted with apparent indifference, but this talented ensemble of artists and musicians have returned it to its rightful place in the center of the American canon.
Australian film auteur Mark Anthony "Baz" Luhrmann is currently in production with his own version of the classic novel, with Leonardo diCaprio in the Gatsby role, slated for release later this year. The Robert Redford movie famously flopped. From the vantage point of our desk deep in the "Valley of Ashes," we’ll be curious to see if Baz can pull it off half as well as Parallele.
In further news of artistic documentation of the social scene, Out There received a note from acclaimed art photographer Arthur Tress last week, presenting himself as if he needed introduction. "I am a well-known photographer of the male nude and have done several books on that. I am doing an exhibition of my photographs at the de Young Museum opening March 3. This is some of my early work that I did when I was 23 years old and just coming out. In the catalog we do talk about S.F. gay life in 1964, and about my older sister Madeleine and her partner, who made the exhibit possible."
Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 will offer over 70 photographs ranging from public gatherings to impromptu street portraits, views of the peculiar contents of shop windows and commercial signs. This is the first museum showing of a virtually unknown body of Tress’ early work. Curator James Ganz explains, "The exhibition offers an evocative time capsule of the City by the Bay, and makes a fascinating contribution to the region’s rich photographic legacy." The show will run March 3 through June 3 at the de Young Museum, watch these pages for an upcoming Sura Wood review.