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‘The Ghosts of Gatsby’ offers an operatic take on author’s life

Updated September 24, 2021 - 12:19 pm

Opera isn’t the form of musical expression that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But it turns out that the emotional heft of opera meshes perfectly with the life of Fitzgerald, best known as the author of “The Great Gatsby,” a novel of the idle and unhappy rich set during the Jazz Age.

For proof, check out “The Ghosts of Gatsby,” a chamber opera to be staged next weekend by Opera Las Vegas that’s based on events in the life of Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, and has a script based on the couple’s words.

The opera will be presented Oct. 1 to 3 at The Space, 3460 Cavaretta Court. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 and 2, and 3 p.m. Oct. 3. Tickets are $25 and $45 (operalasvegas.com).

“The Ghosts of Gatsby” will kick off Opera Las Vegas’ 22nd season. James Sohre, general director of Opera Las Vegas, said the performances will be the first of four West Coast premieres the company has scheduled for this season and are part of its Living Composers and Librettists Initiative.

Opera Las Vegas’ production also will mark the first professional production of “The Ghosts of Gatsby,” Sohre said. “It was entered into the National Opera Association chamber opera competition and won in 2019, and it received a student performance or two but hasn’t been professionally produced. So we’re excited and honored to present it in Las Vegas.”

The opera will reacquaint viewers with an author, and a story, they may have read in high school but haven’t really thought much about since.

“Everybody has an idea of what (the book) is about — all that Jazz Age and spoiled rich people,” Sohre said. “But it actually explores the relationship of Scott and Zelda, which was quite troubled, loving and erotic, and sometimes very competitive.”

The opera, by composer Evan Mack and librettist Joshua McGuire, places Scott and Zelda in a hotel bedroom on the French Riviera in 1924. Fitzgerald is struggling to finish “The Great Gatsby” and jealous of Zelda’s possible extramarital affair, while Zelda is frustrated by a controlling Scott.

“It’s a very theatrical presentation,” Sohre said. “It’s all very clever and very theatrically compelling.”

The beginning of the opera comes from “the Fitzgerald songbook, music that was popular during the Jazz Age, a sort of boy-meets-girl, love-loss, those themes in operatic style,” Sohre said, but “it sets you up for the punch” by offering “a premonition of Zelda’s impending insanity.”

“I don’t think people realize the tragedy of their life. They know the tragedy in ‘The Great Gatsby’ but don’t really know the extent of the tragic arc (of) Scott and Zelda’s lives, and that’s grist for opera.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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