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A complete archive of reviews of works by Gordon Getty, including performances and recordings.

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, Goodbye Mr. Chips Highlights BBC Music Magazine

Featured Review: Claire Jackson: Gordon Getty: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (EP)
BBC Music Magazine

Soprano Marnie Breckenridge sweetly foreshadows the tragedy in ‘Chips darling it's started', a lyrical aria with colourful orchestration including harp and piano. This style is echoed in a later interlude, with melodic writing for strings, piano and tuned percussion.

James Hilton's 1934 novella about teacher Mr. Chipping and his life at an all-boys British boarding school now finds new life as an opera. Goodbye, Mr. Chips was premiered as a filmed production in 2021 due to Covid restrictions and this EP offers highlights from the soundtrack. Tenor Nathan Granner charms as the title character, reflecting on loss in ‘Long Remembered', where the Young People's Chorus of New York City represent the students of Brookfield, his much-loved school. The story is told through flashbacks, including dalliances with one headmaster (‘Ralston's Redemption'), sung by bass-baritone Kevin Short, through whom we discover some of Mr Chips's less wholesome pupils. There are also recollections of Kathie, Chipping's wife who died during childbirth. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge sweetly foreshadows the tragedy in ‘Chips darling it's started', a lyrical aria with colourful orchestration including harp and piano. This style is echoed in a later interlude, with melodic writing for strings, piano and tuned percussion. The reasons for releasing just six tracks are unclear – nonetheless the selection whets one's appetite for the full-scale score.

Claire Jackson

November 2, 2022

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, Opera News

Featured Review: Joanne Sydney Lessner: Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Opera News

Composer/librettist Getty hews closely to the book, adding color and depth particularly where Kathie is concerned. The score is traditional and tonal, with recitatives and arias, soaring choral anthems, and a predilection for heroic high notes.

GORDON GETTY'S OPERA GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS had its New York premiere on March 2 at the Walter Reade Theater, reimagined as a film and co-presented by New York City Opera and Festival Napa Valley. Based on James Hilton's novella, the opera is a series of nested flashbacks celebrating the long, well-lived life of an English schoolmaster. Mr. Chips (né Chipping) is the archetypal beloved teacher who never had children of his own, but lays claim to the thousands of boys he influenced over more than half a century. He's the sort of teacher students adore even as they mock his eccentricities, bemused by his corny Latin puns that they nonetheless never forget. Mr. Chips is almost too good to be true, a vessel of compassion and decency who meets others where they are and takes them at face value. He shares this generosity of spirit with his wife, Kathie, who remains his guiding light even after her life is tragically foreshortened. 

Composer/librettist Getty hews closely to the book, adding color and depth particularly where Kathie is concerned. The score is traditional and tonal, with recitatives and arias, soaring choral anthems, and a predilection for heroic high notes. Francisco J. Núñez's outstanding Young People's Chorus of New York City sang in video projections as the schoolboys, while the principal singers were filmed on set in San Francisco. In addition to being the safe, expedient choice, it was also dramatically sound. The boys exist primarily as phantoms in the aged Chips's mind; only he and the school itself withstand the test of time. Brian Staufenbiel's confident direction capitalized on the advantages of film. Old Chips morphed into younger Chips via cross-fades, and the vista expanded gradually from intimate interiors to reveal the limited universe of Chips's life: sitting room, great hall, hospital bed. 

The performers were impressively at ease in front of the camera. Nathan Granner was a winning, worthy Chips, credible at every age, conveying his emotions with a stirring tenor of equal parts metal and warmth. He projected strength, dignity, compassion and joy, and was especially moving when singing to, with or about Kathie. With his relaxed, avuncular presence and robust baritone, Lester Lynch was an ideal Merrivale, the young doctor to whom Chips unpacks his life and who serves as narrator. An active listener and an engaging storyteller, Lynch was the perfect foil for Granner, communicating to the audience that Chips's stories are not new to him, while laughing with Chips as if he's hearing them for the first time. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge was a lovely Kathie, full of sugar, spice and common sense, singing with pristine high notes and a rosy middle register. She also gave voice to the lad who appears on Chips's death day and bids him farewell with an echo of her sad, haunting “Good-bye, Mr. Chips.”

With his thundering bass-baritone, Kevin Short was fearsome as the upstart headmaster Ralston, whose unsuccessful attempts to knock Chips off balance were accentuated by disconcerting camera angles. Wigs and facial hair facilitated Short's doubling as the contrastingly congenial school chairman, Rivers. In each era, a solitary boy singing live represented the others, and several returned as ghosts during a climactic set piece in which Chips forges ahead with an apt Latin lesson (Caesar's fight against the Germans) as the WWI bombs fall. All the young soloists inhabited their roles with poise and dramatic focus. 

The opera, affecting though it is, sometimes drags due to a surfeit of repetition, with too many reprises of moments the audience has already seen. Some of the arias overstayed their welcome, and the piece stalled in storytelling mode at the beginning before Granner stepped into the action as his younger self. Nicole Paiement led the orchestra with authority, illuminating the thorniness of the instrumental texture that adds piquancy to the idealized patina of Chips's nostalgia. Jacquelyn Scott's production design featured detailed sets, and Callie Floor's attractive costumes evolved with the eras of Chips's life.

March 2, 2022

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Young America, Young America, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jeff Kaliss: Youth Chorus Demonstrates Music’s Power at Festival Napa Valley
San Francisco Classical Voice

The liveliness lingered and expanded through five sections from Gordon Getty's Young America (2004, recorded a year later on Pentatone). Several of the performing boys had appeared as Brookfield School students in Getty's 2021 filmed opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. The composer's trademark quizzically chromatic reshapings of expected melodic movement were engagingly conveyed by this endemically extroverted ensemble, its tonality true through the alternative harmonizations, interestingly structured as a sort of double duet in the “Heather Mary” section, a pair of girls “addressing” a pair of the boys. With one exception, Getty also penned the lyrics to these sections, including the brief personal recollection “My Uncle's House,” playfully evoked by the young singers.

For “Daughter of Asheville,” violinist Emma Hathaway stepped out to accompany coupled choristers waltzing and singing in 6/8 time, this composer's tangy melodies and occasional open-fifth voicings painting a pretty picture of young romance. His years matching the 88 chromatic steps of a keyboard, Getty rose from his place to smilingly acknowledge the sustained approbation from his fellow audience members after the finish of his fun setting of Stephen Vincent Benét's “When Daniel Boone Goes by at Night.”

There was ample intoxication in downtown Napa on Saturday evening, in the spirits and sounds of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, as the group performed in the bucolic outdoor amphitheater of the Culinary Institute of America at Copia.

YPC, now in its 35th year, delightfully closed the first week of Festival Napa Valley's summer season. It was conducted joyously by Francisco J. Nuñez, who founded the ensemble when he was barely older than these teenage singers.

Aside from age, this group showcases diversity with regard to race, nationality, and body type. Similarly variegated is its repertoire, with the Saturday program's opener, the Kyrie from Mozart's Missa brevis in D Major, K. 194 (written in 1774, when the composer was 18), proving something of an outlier. The “eleison” in the movement, though sincerely delivered, seemed at odds with the balmy atmosphere and the graceful background of well-tended trees, rising behind the 42 choristers and their accompanying instrumentation of piano, cello, and violin (occasionally doubling on percussion).

Several fine sopranos and tenors had solo step-outs, as they would throughout the concert. Nuñez has pointed out that “the voice parts are very fluid,” but it seemed that baritone and bass voices were less in evidence, with no detriment to quality.

With its second number, folk songs of indigenous people arranged by Brazilian choir leader Marcos Leite, the chorus changed both genre and language and deployed finger snaps, bird whistles, and the sounds of a thunderstorm and swayed with the rhythm. For a setting of chorister Ana Maria Griffin Morimoto's text “De la boca,” by composer Julia Wolfe (who was present), the language shifted to Spanish. In another of YPC's trademarks, soloists and smaller ensembles stepped forward in brief segments of the delightfully arranged piece.

The liveliness lingered and expanded through five sections from Gordon Getty's Young America (2004, recorded a year later on Pentatone). Several of the performing boys had appeared as Brookfield School students in Getty's 2021 filmed opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. The composer's trademark quizzically chromatic reshapings of expected melodic movement were engagingly conveyed by this endemically extroverted ensemble, its tonality true through the alternative harmonizations, interestingly structured as a sort of double duet in the “Heather Mary” section, a pair of girls “addressing” a pair of the boys. With one exception, Getty also penned the lyrics to these sections, including the brief personal recollection “My Uncle's House,” playfully evoked by the young singers.

For “Daughter of Asheville,” violinist Emma Hathaway stepped out to accompany coupled choristers waltzing and singing in 6/8 time, this composer's tangy melodies and occasional open-fifth voicings painting a pretty picture of young romance. His years matching the 88 chromatic steps of a keyboard, Getty rose from his place to smilingly acknowledge the sustained approbation from his fellow audience members after the finish of his fun setting of Stephen Vincent Benét's “When Daniel Boone Goes by at Night.”

Lester Lynch, a frequent collaborator with YPC, soloed on “He's Got the Whole World in His Hands,” arranged in part by Lynch and Noam Faingold. Lynch's burnished baritone worked well against the high massed voices of the youth, modulating ever upward on verse after verse. He returned later, for “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” arranged by Faingold and Peter J. Wilhousky. The chorus again followed the emotive Lynch in good order, on into the slowed final verse and its fortissimo finish.

Nuñez spoke of his admiration for the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim before leading a medley from Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, arranged by Matt Podd and very much fitting the YPC in terms of place and age. The contributions of the ensemble's principal choreographer, Jacqueline Bird, were dramatically showcased here, particularly in the excerpts of “I Feel Pretty” and “America.” The segues from song to song and from soloist to tutti were well handled. Soprano Mikayla Sager and tenor Mario Chang joined the ensemble, Chang sounding particularly polished.

The quiet, modal sound of “Mo Li Hua,” a Chinese folk song arranged vocally by Chen Yi and instrumentally by Nuñez, was an impressive changeup, but the harmonic and melodic purity was pleasantly presented and enhanced by the placement of the violin at the rear of the amphitheater at the beginning of the piece and the placid movement of the girl choristers, with large orange fans serving also as percussion. “Take Me to the Water,” by Rollo Dilworth, incorporated quotes from several African American spirituals. The boys executed athletic choreography; the girls paraded with white gossamer parasols.

Festival favorite and former Miss America Nia Imani Franklin sweetly sang a brief a cappella sample of gospel from her hometown Baptist church, to introduce the world premiere of her composition Polaris. Melodically and lyrically simple but meaningful, the piece ended with a recitation of the names of victims of racism, some familiar, some overlooked by the media. A standing ovation earned an encore with Paul Simon's “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” arranged by Kirby Shaw with lucent voicings and extra peppiness appropriate to these singers.

For this reviewer, this is the most kinetically exciting species of chorus I've ever seen, apart from a Broadway or movie musical. The group is living proof of the purpose and power of music in the personhood of young people. And its ability to embrace difference inspires as much as it entertains.

A quarter of YPC's full complement of 2,000 students, age 8 to 18, is represented in AloneTogether, a multimedia exhibition in the lobby of the CIA at Copia throughout the festival. Involving poetry, sculpture, and film as well as music, the exhibition examines the lives of children impacted by lockdown, global turmoil, and transformative activism over the past few years.

July 19, 2022

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Spring Song, The WholeNote

Tiina Kiik: Primavera II: the rabbits – Matt Haimovitz
The WholeNote

It is so fascinating to hear each composer's own musical perception of the visuals. For example, Missy Mazzoli's Beyond the Order of Things (after Josquin) has a contemporary orchestral storytelling sound with rhythms, pitch slides, fast runs and sudden atonal held notes. Tomeka Reid's energetic Volplaning is an intense response to the paintings. Sudden loud single-line phrases and rhythmic detached notes add to the running and bouncing rabbit sensibility. Gordon Getty's Spring Song is a slow, calming Romantic-style-influenced work, clocking in under the two-minute mark. Plucks, repeated notes and upbeat rock strings have the rabbits bopping in a bar in David Balakrishnan's Theme and Variants.

 —

The awe-inspiring Primavera Project, co-directed by Matt Haimovitz and Dr. Jeffrianne Young, explores the influence and inspiration of music and art. Its six-release series is comprised of 81 world premiere solo cello compositions commissioned for Haimovitz. Each composer was asked to respond to Sandro Botticelli's enigmatic painting, Primavera, and the prophetic large-scale triptych, Primavera 2020, by world-renowned contemporary artist Charline von Heyl. This second release Primavera II: the rabbits takes its name from the rabbit trilogy motive in von Heyl's visuals.

Haimovitz's arrangement of Josquin des Prez's Kyrie (from Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae) opens. His conversational four-part contrapuntal playing ranges from moving, to dark singing tone colour above full harmonic chords. This is followed by 13 new works, each lasting under ten minutes. It is so fascinating to hear each composer's own musical perception of the visuals. For example, Missy Mazzoli's Beyond the Order of Things (after Josquin) has a contemporary orchestral storytelling sound with rhythms, pitch slides, fast runs and sudden atonal held notes. Tomeka Reid's energetic Volplaning is an intense response to the paintings. Sudden loud single-line phrases and rhythmic detached notes add to the running and bouncing rabbit sensibility. Gordon Getty's Spring Song is a slow, calming Romantic-style-influenced work, clocking in under the two-minute mark. Plucks, repeated notes and upbeat rock strings have the rabbits bopping in a bar in David Balakrishnan's Theme and Variants.

Haimovitz understands and interprets each diverse work, playing all lines in stunningly beautiful, must-listen-to passionate performances.

April 21, 2022

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jeff Kaliss: Mr. Chips Makes a Winning Transition to Opera in a New Film San Francisco Classical Voice
San Francisco Classical Voice

The scene of Kathie's death in childbirth, coming as it does relatively early in the work, is a test of all creative elements, and it's successfully passed. Director of photography Steven Condiotti, here and elsewhere, enhances the drama with artful closeups as Breckenridge, on Kathie's deathbed, compellingly carries the music and lyrics as close as they will come to traditional tragic aria. Getty gives her in this scene a poetic expression of her inherent, persistent wit and affection, his composition dramatically dynamic but never maudlin. Equally affecting is the ensuing scene of Chips on a lonely trek after losing Kathie, the movie letting Granner intone in a plaintive musical voiceover. Camera pans and dollies allow for a kinetic momentum throughout the work, difficult to achieve in a staged opera.

…The final scene offers an external aerial shot of the collection of buildings where internal scenes are set and a revival of significant characters, including the boys of the school, collectively projected on the school's walls and windows. Here's a capping confirmation that movie magic has, in several senses, elicited the timelessness in this tale, helping to extend it beyond the conventions of both book and opera. But the tale is also very well served by some of Getty's most appealing orchestration and setting for voice to date, clearly inspired by the subject matter and its messages of good will and redemption.

 —

Commenting in October on the imminent premiere of his newest opera, composer Gordon Getty proposed that there's “a Christmas Spirit kind of thing” in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It felt indeed like a harbinger of the holidays when the opera, adapted from James Hilton's 1934 novella of the same name, premiered on film at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on November 14. Long-time acquaintances and colleagues, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, took time to greet the composer and each other before the opening titles, appearing over the image of Lester Lynch, in the role of physician Merrivale, silently perambulating the setting of the Brookfield School, luminously evoked by production designer Jacquelyn Scott. The music commences as the collective spirit of the Brookfield boys, voiced in academic Latin by the Young People's Chorus of New York City.

There's much good cheer also in the fictional account of the more than six-decade tenure at Brookfield of a beloved schoolmaster, Arthur Chipping, nicknamed Mr. Chips. It is narrated in the first scene and at key points throughout the opera in Lynch's warm, burnished, engaging baritone. His Merrivale moves on to an interaction with the octogenarian Chips, sweetly and vibrantly sung and acted by tenor Nathan Granner. Much of the opera, in fact, proceeds as dialogue. That this effectively commands the attention of the listener/viewer is to the credit of Getty, who both refashioned the book's story and authored the engaging libretto, and to the direction of this production by Brian Staufenbiel, also credited as “concept creator.” Not to mention the cast who, in response to the demands of the movie camera, uniformly confirm that they can act as well as sing well. [Full disclosure: Gordon Getty is a principal donor to San Francisco Classical Voice.]

The filmic form of this work — a consequence of COVID's interruption of the planned traditional staged premiere — also allows for intercutting, in Chips's remembrance with Merrivale, of a flashback to his meetup with Kathie, a lively younger woman who becomes his bride, the love of his life, and an inspiration to his school. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge takes on this role with a loving, lyrical energy and tone, and Granner, with support from costume designer Callie Floor and hair and makeup designer Jenny-King Turko, achieves a credible metamorphosis to a young Chips.

The scene of Kathie's death in childbirth, coming as it does relatively early in the work, is a test of all creative elements, and it's successfully passed. Director of photography Steven Condiotti, here and elsewhere, enhances the drama with artful closeups as Breckenridge, on Kathie's deathbed, compellingly carries the music and lyrics as close as they will come to traditional tragic aria. Getty gives her in this scene a poetic expression of her inherent, persistent wit and affection, his composition dramatically dynamic but never maudlin. Equally affecting is the ensuing scene of Chips on a lonely trek after losing Kathie, the movie letting Granner intone in a plaintive musical voiceover. Camera pans and dollies allow for a kinetic momentum throughout the work, difficult to achieve in a staged opera.

Among the opera/film's several flashbacks is Chips's run-in with a new headmaster, Ralston, who pressures him unsuccessfully, in the brooding basso voice of Kevin Short, to retire. Condiotti shoots this, à la Orson Welles, from alternative camera angles, low or high and tilted. Short doubles in the role of the benign Sir John Rivers, head of the school's board of governors, who appoints Chips headmaster to succeed Ralston. After a scene with Rivers, Getty, with a poet's innovative approach to words and phrasing, gives Chips an extended aria, in which the schoolmaster reflects on how his values of caring and knowledge inform his long career. Chips is accompanied by the sound of the Young People's Chorus of New York City. They're supported by an orchestra artfully and empathetically conducted throughout by Nicole Paiement, the results compiled by producer Leslie Ann Jones at Skywalker Sound. Granner's mastery of vocal dynamics is highlighted here and in a jocular but tender speech-aria delivered at an end-of-term dinner, where his appreciative fellow faculty include (spoiler alert!) the composer himself.

The pervasive affirmation of morality in Hilton's novella is readily embraced by Getty and highlighted in a scene where the former bully headmaster and later larcenous industrialist Ralston comes to beg Chips for forgiveness and advice. On this same day, the last of his life, Chips is also visited by a brand new and nervous Brookfield student, Linford, sensitively acted by Ilan Casian-Issenberg. In a display of innovation, Getty has the singing voice of Linford supplied by Breckenridge, so that the boy's parting words, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” echo Kathie's dying words, in more ways than one.

Chips's place in the lives of individual students is evinced in several shorter scenes involving talented singing actors from the Oakland School for the Arts: Alex Cook, Tristan Carless, Xander Vazquez, and William Lewis, as well as Casian-Issenberg. These episodes also serve to link the scope of the story to significant historical events, such as the sinking of the Titanic and the First World War. The final scene offers an external aerial shot of the collection of buildings where internal scenes are set and a revival of significant characters, including the boys of the school, collectively projected on the school's walls and windows. Here's a capping confirmation that movie magic has, in several senses, elicited the timelessness in this tale, helping to extend it beyond the conventions of both book and opera. But the tale is also very well served by some of Getty's most appealing orchestration and setting for voice to date, clearly inspired by the subject matter and its messages of good will and redemption.

The appeal of Goodbye, Mr. Chips has been further extended to a large number of viewers in the Republic of China, over what's been described as a new communication platform for cultural programming. In a collaboration between the New York City Opera and Festival Napa Valley, originally scheduled to stage the live premiere of the opera, the film will be screened at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on February 9, 2022. It will also be made available to film festivals, its successful production helping to encourage interest in this still fresh and fascinating medium for opera.

December 9, 2021

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, Berkshire Fine Arts

Susan Hall: Gordon Getty Premiers a New Opera in New York Berkshire Fine Arts
Berkshire Fine Arts

Indeed, one of the best things about Chips is that Getty has concentrated on telling his story, and hasn't let arias intrude. Yet Chips has some beautiful moments in song. Granner succeeds in creating a correct character who is reserved and charming at the same time.

The orchestration was recorded first. It is particularly rich and underscores the simpler lines sung as characters tell the story.

 —

Gordon Getty's opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, had its New York premiere as an opera reimagined for film. Co-presented by New York City Opera (NYC) and Festival Napa Valley, Getty's fourth opera is based on the popular 1934 novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips and other stories by James Hilton.

Born of necessity, the Goodbye Mr. Chips team, led by the indominatable Gordon Getty, composer and librettist, have put together a special experience. Vocal music is composed, and sung by stellar individual artists joined by the New York Young People's Chorus led by Francisco J. Nunez. Marnie Breckenridge does an enchanting turn as Chips' wife. Kevin Short digs deep to create Ralston.

Nathan Granner, a tenor with a particularly clear and moving upper range, sings the title role. Kudos to the make up staff who age him gracefully and believably from a 22-year-old novice beginning his career, until the last days of his life at age 85. Suitably, his voice does not change over the years. He is fixed in our minds in time and on film/stage too.

Indeed, one of the best things about Chips is that Getty has concentrated on telling his story, and hasn't let arias intrude. Yet Chips has some beautiful moments in song. Granner succeeds in creating a correct character who is reserved and charming at the same time.

The orchestration was recorded first. It is particularly rich and underscores the simpler lines sung as characters tell the story. The singers were also recorded separately and their voices were lip-synched, so cleverly that you would not notice if you did not know this.

In fact, some of of the strongest elements of the filmed opera come from the origins of the elements, each recorded in its own right. When John Goberman first conceived Live from Lincoln Center and opera filmed live, the model was a football game. Low candlepower wattage could be overcome. Excitement would come from art created in the moment.

Opera has its limitations captured in the instant. The orchestra often is given short sound shrift to make sure voices ride over it. This is not a problem in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. The lush and enriched orchestra can be heard in its full glory. Not a voice is swamped. Nicole Paiement conducts to bring out scope and detail.

The director Brian Staufenbiel has responded to the challenge of transfer from live action to film by listening to the music and bringing its beat to the images. His translation adds a moving dimension to the work.

The set itself is fascinating. The central room is Mr. Chips' last home, where he is telling the tale to Mr Merrivale. Lester Lynch a captivating narrator. Separate units are a school classroom and dining room, in which the composer does a charming cameo toward the end of the opera. There is an exterior in town, with a bridge that serves to connect elements. We pull back twice to view the entire stage with each of these interiors looking like dollhouses. A blackboard can decline adjectives in Latin and also become a night sky. The windows of the schoolhouse are frames for many students.

It seems heavy-handed to remark that the casting is color-blind. It suits the work and seems perfectly natural.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips captures the flavor of a time when schoolboys were taught Latin and Greek, which they couldn't use. They were also taught decency and other civilized virtues, which perhaps they could. Often, of course, they did just the opposite.

Chips teaches in the very best of schools, a beautiful old institution, made up here in musical blocks of feeling and beauty. Chips is an engaging human being and has lived a useful and civilized life.

Hello Mr. Getty. Give us more!

March 3, 2022

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, La Scena Musicale

Charles Geyer: Goodbye, Mr. Chips – Gordon Getty’s New Opera on Film Takes its New York Bow
La Scena Musicale

Getty's score is characteristically rich, layered and long-arced, with especially exquisite string voicings, vivid base lines, and a number of lovely and affecting motivic recurrences. There are several remarkably moving arias and set-pieces for Chips – one celebrating his newfound capacity for both pain and joy; one cataloguing the grim sacrifice made by all too many of his former students in the Great War; one ruminating on what it might have been like had Chips' and Kathie's son survived her death.

And Getty reserves his most lush and passionate music for the opera's final, full-throated blossoming.  Reinforced by galactic cinematic imagery, Kathie returns in an orchestral apotheosis, helping Chips see the quiet yet consummate symmetry of the life he has lived, and the undeserved grace he has been granted in having been father to “thousands of children – all boys.”

The opera, perhaps more so than Hilton's original novel, concludes on a note of transcendence, suggestive of how even the littlest of lives can achieve a kind of fractal correspondence to the great, immanent soul of a benign and integrated cosmos.

 —

REVIEW: of the New York premiere of a new opera by Gordon Getty, “reimagined for film” – Goodbye, Mr. Chips, screened at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, March 2, 2022, at 7:00 p.m., sponsored jointly by Festival Napa Valley and NYCO (New York City Opera).

The idea for an opera version of James' Hilton's 1934 novel, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, had been germinating in composer Gordon Getty's mind for decades – ever since, as a young man, he saw a re-release of the celebrated 1939 film adaptation starring Robert Donat (in an Academy Award-winning performance as the eponymous character) and the beguiling Greer Garson.

But other projects intervened, and Hilton's diffident title character was jostled to the rear of Getty's docket, in favor of theatrical works featuring decidedly more flamboyant characters and more highly fraught scenarios, such as Plump Jack (Getty's Falstaff-centric opera) and Joan and the Bells (which deals with the trial and martyrdom of Joan of Arc).

Then, as recently as three years ago, Getty was given a copy of the original Hilton novel. He read it, and that's when Mr. Chips seized him again.

“It took me only about two years to complete,” Getty says. “I work fast – once I get started.”

“Goosebumps,” He Says…

“Goosebumps.” That is Getty's tersely eloquent reply to the question of how he knows whether a subject is fit for his musical treatment – and it was the somatic reaction Getty experienced on meeting Hilton's fictional man-in-full.

For those unfamiliar either with the Hilton novel or any one of the several film and television adaptations that have followed, the story sketches out the life and career of a mild-mannered classics teacher at a British all-boys boarding school, Mr. Chipping (Hilton never disclosed a first name) better known to colleagues and generations of students alike as Mr. Chips. The novel is episodic and cozily conversational – but at its heart is the tale of Chips' mid-life transformation within the crucible of a potent and utterly unlikely encounter with love. A forty-eight -year-old Chips meets (and is at first confounded by) the remarkable Katherine Bridges – a compelling combination of feisty modernity, intelligence, intuition and capacity for empathy. She's young enough to be Chips' daughter. But differences in age and temperament notwithstanding, Kathie is moved by Chips' gentility, and motivated to minister to his seemingly untapped emotional latencies.

Marriage ensues, and a new Mr. Chips emerges. Under Kathie's influence, Chips' previously rote teaching style transforms into one of humor, sympathy and warm encouragement – a rebirth that will thenceforward engender the affection and regard of the young men Chips cultivates, and sustain him through the rest of a long life.

Lights, Camera, Action…

Getty's Goodbye, Mr. Chips was originally commissioned by Festival Napa Valley for live stage performance. But, with the advent of the sudden stultifying restrictions of COVID-19, the festival pluckily opted to take the pandemic head on, retool and develop Getty's work as a film.

The prospect might be said to have carried a certain irony for Getty, who has elsewhere spoken of the influence that great film scores have exerted on his aesthetic.

“Movies, after all, are spoken operas,” Getty has remarked (in his liner notes for Joan and the Bells), “where the score tells us what to expect and how things feel.”

Thus, the notion was both inspiring and apt; the details, however, proved thorny.

Getty's orchestral score was recorded first, with a corps of San Francisco-based musicians isolated individually in various conservatory rooms to maintain the requisite social distancing, while conductor Nicole Paiement led the recording sessions remotely by way of “Dante” technology (“Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet,” a product by AV company Audinate).

Each of the principals then recorded his or her vocal tracks separately to the already-recorded score, and would lip-synch to them later during actual filming – both practices that are standard recourse in film and pop video, but alien to the experience of most classical singers.

For the crucial element of the rank and-file students who form Mr. Chips' tightly circumscribed universe, the company drew on the forces of the Young People's Chorus of New York City. Recorded and filmed in various groupings in New York, these young singers were integrated later into the principal photography in California.

Director Brian Staufenbiel and his technical and design team have crafted a cinematic experience that is stylish, imaginative and visually arresting, with shots that toggle between character close-ups (conveying a sense of intimacy, interiority, memory), and wide angles on the production's expansive soundstage (a ringed array of set pieces around a full-size dollhouse-like simulation of Chips' boarding house sitting room), reminding the viewer of the work's essential theatricality and understated monumentality.

Chipping Away…

In penning his own libretto for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Getty has hit on a number of clever stratagems, all nicely concealed by the text's deceptively polite fluency.

Getty's first felicity was to couch the whole as a memory piece narrated by Chips' friend and physician, Merivale. The entire opera thus becomes a kind of dialogue between the doctor and the remembered Mr. Chips – an innovation that markedly improves on Hilton's original, more conventional omniscient narrator design.

Within this structure, Getty further transits freely and fluidly among timeframes in Chips' life – a stream of consciousness condign to ‘organic memory – but at the center of it all, there is constant reversion to the primary epoch of Chips' life:  his all-too-brief but profoundly transformative relationship with Kathie.

(It is interesting and touching to note that the period during which Getty worked on Goodbye, Mr. Chips appears to correspond to a period during which Getty experienced the loss of his own wife of 56 years.)

Scoring Mr. Chips

Getty's score is characteristically rich, layered and long-arced, with especially exquisite string voicings, vivid base lines, and a number of lovely and affecting motivic recurrences. There are several remarkably moving arias and set-pieces for Chips – one celebrating his newfound capacity for both pain and joy; one cataloguing the grim sacrifice made by all too many of his former students in the Great War; one ruminating on what it might have been like had Chips' and Kathie's son survived her death.

And Getty reserves his most lush and passionate music for the opera's final, full-throated blossoming. Reinforced by galactic cinematic imagery, Kathie returns in an orchestral apotheosis, helping Chips sees the quiet yet consummate symmetry of the life he has lived, and the undeserved grace he has been granted in having been father to “thousands of children – all boys.”

The opera, perhaps more so than Hilton's original novel, concludes on a note of transcendence, suggestive of how even the littlest of lives can achieve a kind of fractal correspondence to the great, immanent soul of a benign and integrated cosmos.

Chipping In…

The performances featured in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, both vocally and character-wise, are uniformly exemplary, executed by an ensemble of artists each of whom is known for significant contributions to the development of new works.

Dramatic baritone Lester Lynch portrays Mr. Chips' physician and friend, Merivale, with warmth and gentle authority, lending his distinctively expressive sonorities to the role of the opera's principal narrator and Greek chorus.

Bass-baritone Kevin Short does double duty as both Headmaster Ralston – Mr. Chips' principal academic antagonist – and Chairman Rivers – his chief ally – and acquits himself in both roles with impressive vocal and histrionic versatility.

Soprano Marnie Breckenridge brings a delightfully pert energy and glittering voice to the role of Kathie, Mr. Chips' great love and great loss.

Finally, tenor Nathan Granner brings to the central role of Chips a voice of burnished tone and admirable flexibility, at times richly emotive, at others light and winsome, admirably distinguishing among the various epochs of the character's life and career.

Hello, Mr. Chips!

This film incarnation of Gordon Getty's Goodbye, Mr. Chips is both a luxe and lovely calling card for the opera itself, as well as a durable proof-of-concept for future opera-as-film. Almost certainly the film will invite consideration for further mounting of the opera in live productions elsewhere, as well as heralding an achievement that could well lay claim to a place of enduring esteem in the modern canon.

March 9, 2022

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, TheaterScene.net

Victor Gluck: Goodbye, Mr. Chips
TheaterScene.net

The lush, lovely music is old-fashioned enough that it could have been written pre-1940 but does not suggest British music of its time period.

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Gordon Getty's fourth opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, based on the best-selling 1934 novella by James Hilton as well as two other Chips short stories by Hilton, was supposed to open as a fully-staged, live performance in San Francisco last year. However, due to the pandemic the onstage production was canceled. Since then it has been reconceived by the original stage director Brian Staufenbiel as a film instead, making use of many elements of the previously planned stage production.

Getty's own libretto straitjackets his opera by using a narrator, Dr. Merrivale, and then having the main character, teacher and later headmaster Mr. Chips, recollecting his memories. As a result, the opera is basically a flashback within a series of flashbacks which deprives it of drama. Faithful to the Hilton originals, it recounts the life of Arthur Chipping, a Latin and Greek master at Brookfield, the fictional all-boys boarding school, in the east of England, who gains the nickname of “Chips” which sticks for his entire 63 year career. A confirmed bachelor of traditional but idealistic and moral views, he falls in love with a vivacious young lady, Kathie Bridges, whom he meets on a walking trip of the Lake District when he is 46, and promptly falls in love with and marries her soon after.

Their happiness is short-lived when she dies in childbirth. Teaching the way he always has, but more flexible and understanding of people than before due to the influence of his late wife, he comes into conflict with a younger and more modern headmaster, but weathers the storm and ends up acting headmaster himself during W.W. I when the men of military age are away at war. Starting in the year of his death in 1933, Dr. Merrivale, the school physician, narrates his story from 1896 on, as well as interacts with him as friend and medical adviser.

The new opera is a mixed bag. The lush, lovely music is old-fashioned enough that it could have been written pre-1940 but does not suggest British music of its time period. Beautifully conducted by Nicole Paiement, the score has no dramatic or theatrical high points and sounds more like chamber music than an opera score. The libretto is almost entirely in prose, most likely taken from Hilton, so that most of the singing is recitative.

The production is a combination of film and theater techniques which keep reminding us that we are watching a dramatization: realistic sets (designed by Jacquelyn Scott) give way to scenes in which we are on a stage. Sets also revolve for no specific reason except possibly to show the passage of time. As seen up-close on camera, they all look too clean and tidy which suggest theater sets. The 20 members of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, augmented by an additional 20 voices (all conducted by Francisco J. Núñez), are only seen in video that appears on Chips' blackboard or behind the windows of various rooms. We never get a sense of Chips' running a class or his interaction with a roomful of boys.

Baritone Lester Lynch as Dr. Merrivale has the best music and makes the most of his chances. The music for Mr. Chips all sounds the same as his text is made up of one sentence statements. His only powerful and poignant aria comes early in the second act when, during 1917, Chips must announce the deaths of Brookfield students that he had taught. As Mr. Chips, tenor Nathan Granner begins at age 83 and must also play him at various earlier stages. He is much more convincing as a younger man than as the aged retiree. As we never actually see him teach a class we have to take it on faith that he is an inspiring educator and mentor.

Soprano Marnie Beckenridge is a lovely presence as Kathie who becomes Mrs. Chips but as the character has a small role in the storyline she is not given much to do. She does, however, appear in a few flashbacks and as the voice of the youngest student Linford in the penultimate scene. Bass-baritone Kevin Short who will be familiar to Metropolitan Opera audiences plays the unusual double role of Sir John Rivers, chairman of the board of Brookfield, as well as Ralston, the progressive modern but disliked headmaster just before the Great War. Using different voices for each, he is most successful as Rivers, his wig (designed by Jenny-King Turko) as Ralston doesn't really flatter him as a British headmaster.

Callie Floor is responsible for the spot-on costumes for the early 20th century time period while Philip Perkins is credited with the excellent music supervision and sound designer, an heroic job as it was recorded under difficult circumstances during the pandemic. The viewer would never guess that most of the sound (both singers and musicians) was recorded in different places over time to avoid exposure to Covid. Steven Condiotti was director of crisp photography, while Alexander V. Nichols and Ahren Buhmann were responsible for the projection design which often gives scenes a dreamlike or other-worldly feeling as Chips reminisces about his past life. Tim Fender's editing includes repeats of several scenes which only slows down the story.

While Gordon Getty's opera of Goodbye, Mr. Chips is very accessible for modern opera, it has a very passive main character. As a result, it is not very theatrical or dramatic. We never really get a picture of school life as we never see the students interact although occasionally we see Chips with one of his students in conference after class. It might be much more believable if Chips were to be played by two different singers, one the aged, revered Chips, and one the young man starting out. The film of the opera will not obliterate memories of the movie versions which are now legendary but does stand on its own. However, staged versions may take a totally different production angle in the months and years to come.

March 4, 2022

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Goodbye Mr. Chips, Voce Di Meche

Meche Kroop: A New Art Form?
Voce Di Meche

It was easy to perceive “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” as a film with award-winning music composed by Gordon Getty, music which amplified the drama. … The instrumental writing left nothing to be desired. It neatly supported the onstage drama in a most effective way, which led us to think of this as an award-winning soundtrack to a film.

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There is nothing new about filming opera. Indeed one can find almost every opera in a filmed version on YouTube. The past decade has shown a major advance with the advent of opera in HD. In this case, the film directors have become as important as the stage directors in that they can focus the attention of the audience on a particular singer or some small but significant stage object that only front row audience members might have seen during the live performance.

Last week at the Walter Reade Theater, we were introduced to a further advance in the field, which is “opera reimagined for film”. It was easy to perceive “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” as a film with award-winning music composed by Gordon Getty, music which amplified the drama. The story began life as a 1934 novella by James Hilton and tells the story of a revered teacher at a British boarding school in the early years of the 20th c.

The eponymous teacher (tenor Nathan Granner), long a bachelor, had his life changed by falling in love with and marrying the lovely Kathie (soprano Marnie Breckenridge). Her lamentable death in childbirth did not put an end to his personal and professional growth. There is yet more sorrow as he lives to witness the death of several of his former students in World War I. There is not much conflict, just a difference of opinion with snarky new Headmaster Ralston, played to the hilt by bass-baritone Kevin Short, who wants Latin taught in a new way. Parental support of Mr. Chips prevails.

As a film, this hybrid worked reasonably well. There is a narrator--Merrivale, well played by baritone Lester Lynch; there is a succession of scenes that tell the story logically with clearly inserted flashbacks; there are some “tricks of the trade” best known to film people (of which I am not) that permitted the overlapping of images of Mr. Chips as a young man with his younger self. The students of the school were somehow projected onto the set although they were obviously not present.

The set worked fairly well although a revolving element, commonly used on the theater stage, kept revolving and revolving at one point, and to no apparent purpose. The turn of the 20th c. costuming was apropos with Kathie wearing a gorgeous dress.

Director Brian Staufenbiel managed to coordinate the diverse element to form a cohesive whole with the orchestra, conducted by Nicole Paiement, recorded separately.

The opera side of this synthesis was a mixed bag. The instrumental writing left nothing to be desired. It neatly supported the onstage drama in a most effective way, which led us to think of this as an award-winning soundtrack to a film. However, the vocal lines did not “sing” and there was no melody to speak of (or to sing of). We wish contemporary composers would take a page from Broadway's book and give the audience the tunes our ears are hungry for.

The singing of the members of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, on the other hand, was pure delight as they joined their voices in singing what was probably a hymn or an anthem. One may scoff, but it had melody.

The cast of four did everything they could to make the prosy text musical. Since Mr. Getty wrote the libretto himself, there is no one else to blame for the lack of musicality. Mr. Granner was outstanding, not only for his velvet tone but for fine phrasing that almost compensated for the meandering vocal line. Ms. Breckenridge made a lovely Kathie and we were sorry her character got killed off so early in the film. Mr. Lynch was a believable Merrivale, a former student who is sharing his memories of Mr. Chips. Mr. Short was equally convincing as the hostile new headmaster who had to change his tone when he needed help from Mr. Chips at the end of the film.

There were several scenes that just begged for an old-fashioned aria or duet.

This work was originally conceived as a staged opera and, like so many other projects derailed by the pandemic, had to be reinvented. The world premiere took place last November as part of Festival Napa Valley and Mill Valley Film Festival. This New York premiere was presented by Festival Napa Valley and New York City Opera.

We invite you, dear reader, to add your comments. An experiment like this is sure to arouse all kinds of opinions.

© meche kroop

March 8, 2022

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