The Well-Tempered Ear

New Life for “The Great Gatsby”: John Harbison’s “Roaring ‘20s” opera has its European premiere this month in Dresden, Germany

December 5, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend, Sarah Schaffer, who works with composer John Harbison, writes:

Many Madisonians were among those who travelled to New York City in 1999 for the world premiere of John Harbison’s opera, “The Great Gatsby,” which is based on the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in celebration of renowned conductor James Levine’s 25th anniversary there. (Below, from the original production, are the late tenor Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby and soprano Dawn Upshaw as Daisy Buchanan.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Gatbsy (Hadley) and Daisy (Upshaw)

The work has since been presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, in Boston and at Tanglewood by Emmanuel Music, and, in a reduced orchestra chamber version, by Opera Parallele in San Francisco and at the Aspen Music Festival.

A suite from the opera, commissioned by conductor David Zinman, was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under Maestro John DeMain here in 2010.

And of course, John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, are best known in Madison as the artistic directors of the fiercely imaginative annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in their refurbished barn near Sun Prairie just before Labor Day each summer.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

Now, the first European performance of “The Great Gatsby” will take place at Semperoper (below) in Dresden, Germany from this Sunday, Dec. 6, through Dec. 21. It will be presented in English, with German surtitles.

semperoper dresden exter

Semperoper interior

Preceding the first performance, Semperoper is offering a preview event where two film versions of “The Great Gatsby” will be shown: the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; and the 2013 Baz Luhrman version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

According to Semperoper, “The opera blends modern classical music with jazz and swing to paint a thrilling portrait of a debauched and decadent society, where double standards clash with idealism. European audiences can now enjoy this work for the first time.”

John Harbison directing Gatsby

Wayne Marshall is music director, Keith Warner stage director, with dramaturgy by Stefan Ulrich, and set design by the late John Engels, whose stunning and evocative work was seen last spring in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of The Passenger, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s powerful opera about how the horrors of Auschwitz impact people’s lives in the present.

Wayne Marshall, renowned interpreter of the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and other 20th-century American composers, serves as music director.

In making a new production of The Great Gatsby, Director Keith Warner does not adopt an “update” strategy, often seen in recent European productions.  Instead he goes directly to the period, the American mid-1920s, making its excesses, its excitements, and its cloak of impending doom the essential color of the opera. (below is the party scene.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Party Scene

In the upcoming Dresden production, tenor Peter Lodahl makes his Semperoper debut in the role of Jay Gatsby. For more information, visit: www.peterlodahl.co

Daisy Buchanan will be performed by soprano Maria Bengtsson. For more information, visit: www.mariabengtsson.com

A complete cast list and production personnel can be found at https://www.semperoper.de/en/whats-on/schedule/stid/Gatsby/60545.html

A brief video regarding the launching of Gatsby at Semperopera can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7x_dVimgYg

While not without its detractors, over the years and through its many productions Gatsby has garnered significant praise from some of the most respected critics and publications.

With such an iconic and thoroughly American novel, story and music as its origin and soundscape, it will be fascinating to see what kind of reception Gatsby’s eagerly anticipated European premiere will garner across the pond.

Harbison Great Gatsby 2

Europeans, very conversant with the Fitzgerald novel, tend to emphasize the role of class more than American readers.  Warner uses a number of theatrical devices to starkly outline the attitudes and surroundings of the Wilsons, the working-class couple so crucial to conflicts within the story.

The racist and elitist rants of Tom Buchanan, perhaps more comfortably folded into his familiar character by American fans of the book, emerge in stark outline in Warner’s conception.

 


Classical music news: Veteran American conductor David Zinman reveals ways for symphony orchestras to attract young audiences

May 26, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

How do you attract young listeners to classical music concerts?

Whether you are a performer or an audience member, a presenter or a sponsor, the question is an urgent one.

The question is also constantly and hotly debated these days, and so are the solutions.

Play more new music, say some, and live more  in the present culture.

On the contrary, play the old standards and great masterworks that young people need to know and hear live for once, say others.

Play in non-traditional venues like bars and coffeehouses.

Play in concert halls, but offer cheaper tickets.

Book young performers and soloists that young audiences can relate to.

Program more crossover music with echoes of rock, folk, bluegrass, jazz, blues and world music.

So, just what is an orchestra or other classical ensemble or preenting organization to do?

Well, NONE of those well intentioned ideas are really the way to go, says veteran Grammy-winning conductor, the American David Zinman (below) who leads the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra but guest conducts and tours around the world.

Zinman — who also is famous for championing a modern and seemingly more austere approach to Beethoven (see bottom) — has different ideas.

He got them by simply going to his young 16-year-old son for suggestions.

And he got what he asked for: ADVICE.

Start late, exclude parents, allow casual dress, play anything and host a post-concert all-night dance party.

But he didn’t just ask and listen, and then ignore the advice.

He acted on what he heard and implemented his son’s suggestions – with outstanding success, he adds.

So, do you want to know more about  the “secret” solutions Zinman heard and implemented?

Here they are, as he told a reporter in New Zealand where was preparing to conduct “An Alpine Symphony” by Richard Strauss.

Here is a link to his revealing and optimistic interview:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/performance/6936999/Younger-audiences-sought-for-classical-music

Read what David Zinman says and tell The Ear what you think of the suggestions – especially if you are a young person or know young people and whether you think his suggestions would work or not.


Classical music news: John Harbison’s Symphony No. 6 gets rave reviews at its world premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

January 22, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.

Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.

He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.

This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.

For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.

Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.

You can read some of the reviews for yourself:

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-boston-symphony-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://berkshirereview.net/2012/01/harbison-symphony-no-6-premiere-bso-david-zinman-weber-strauss-beethoven-andsnes/#.TxnNJ5jH1UQ

http://bostonclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-bso-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://mta.scripts.mit.edu/CES/2012/01/18/harbisons-6th-symphony-reviews/

Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/the-shade-of-levine-hovers-over-new-harbison-symphony/

And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.

For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit: www.proartequartet.org


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