The Great Gatsby John Harbison’s Opera performed at Tanglewood
July 11, 2013 performance; by Dave Read
The concert performance in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood of The Great Gatsby, by the orchestra and chorus of Emmanuel Music, was so enjoyable that we’re tempted to propose a corollary to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage, There are no second acts in American lives, to wit, American novels can get third lives.
None of the movie versions of The Great Gatsby has achieved anything near the stature of the novel, but we think the opera has legs and can give the book a run for its money. Whereas Fitzgerald’s standing as a prose stylist cannot be ignored, his choices relating to plots and characters can make it easy to overlook his books. But it is precisely the contrivedly tragic plot and one-dimensional characters that make Gatsby such a good fit for Opera.
We particularly enjoyed the performance of baritone David Kravitz as Nick Carraway, the steady narrator, and we came to prize soprano Devon Guthrie, who got Daisy Buchanan off to a slow start, only to hit her stride and then practically blow the roof off the joint in the middle of Act ll.
Composer John Harbison, recipient this month of the BSO’s Horblit Award and present tonight, was commissioned in 1998 by the Metropolitan Opera to compose the opera in honor of James Levine’s 25th anniversary there. Since then, there have been several related projects including the compilation of a Gatsby Suite. In the program notes, Mr. Harbison, whose Tanglewood relationship includes stints as a TMC Conducting Fellow, faculty member and coordinator of the composition program, calls tonight’s performance a revival.
Ozawa Hall was a lovely accompanist for the performance on a rare comfortable July evening, with a near-capacity audience indoors and a good compliment of West Eggers peering on from the lawn.