Gordon Getty Preludes His New Opera
Goodbye Mr. Chips Prmeieres at Walter Reade Theater
By: Susan Hall - Mar 01, 2022
Berkshire Fine Arts (BFA): Watching great performers, conductors, and composers “release” music from the very center of their being, one sense that music is inborn. Barbara Hannigan remarked that she felt music welling up inside her being and then helped it out in her voice and through her baton. You speak about having this sense of music. Is there any way you could have stayed away from song and music composition? (Detours in the family business exempted.)
Gordon Getty: *chuckles* It’s true that having been born to a great man there are some things that I had to learn that I didn’t learn with great enthusiasm, although I might have liked them later. But music, it was always a part of me, like verse. I can’t remember when I wasn’t composing, and I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing verse. It’s just there in the first place. I didn’t decide to become a composer. It decided.
BFA: You speak about throwing out paper when you’ve written something you don’t like. Is there any pattern to what you don’t like?
Getty: What I don’t like is anything that isn’t my very best, anything that isn’t inspired!
BFA: What drew you to opera, the most difficult and yet the most comprehensive musical form.
Getty: Certainly, I do my own libretti. I love words and I love music and I put them together. I think my love of opera kind of got there about the time my voice changed. Some of the friends of my mother were opera lovers, and they turned me on to the voice of Jussi Björling, and he became a great favorite of myself and my brother Paul. And it just went from there. Great singers…it’s an athletic thing but a spiritual thing too…
BFA: Are you satisfied by the relationship of words and music in opera?
Getty: It’s what we try to do. It isn’t often that someone is 100% satisfied with what he does. But I’ll tell you this, I’m pretty darn well satisfied with Chips. But, we’re going to record it in July. And there will be changes, not in the words, not much in the music accompaniment, but in the prosody. I’m going to kind of bring the tessitura down for everybody… I’m really pleased with Chips, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I want to change.
BFA: Memory is often prominent in the subjects you choose. Does memory play a larger role in your music as you age? The choice of Mr. Chips for instance.
GettyL Well, as you age you have more memories! *chuckles* But the answer is, I don’t think so. In his—Chips’—case they are flashbacks, and you jump forward and jump back. The book begins on his last day, or days, and then we review, but I think we review in kind of a straight line.
BFA: Has there ever been a performance of your work that surprised you?
Getty: Well there have been a few where I wanted to strangle the performers! *laughing* But I’ll tell you this, it wasn’t so much a performance, this movie, the soundtrack, it wasn’t a single performance, but something put together over weeks. It surprised me, because I didn’t realize how satisfied I would be with Chips.
And I’ll tell you this, with the help of Leslie Ann Jones and Dann Thompson, our sound engineers, we sure as heck had to tinker in the studio, and I wouldn’t be saying how satisfied I am without Leslie and Dann. I don’t want to start feeling too self-confident because Leslie and Dann aren’t going to be there to help me in a live performance in the theater. *chuckles*
Goodbye Mr. Chips premieres at the Walter Reade Theater New York on March 2nd at 7. Presented by New York City Opera. Tickets here.
About Gordon Getty
With the November 2021 premiere of his operatic film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, composer Gordon Getty adds a fourth opera to his list of compositions, which also includes works for orchestra, chorus, vocal and instrumental soloists, and chamber ensembles. His staged works have been mounted by Leipzig Opera, Welsh National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Bolshoi Ballet, while his orchestral repertoire has been recorded and performed by the likes of the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, Mikhail Pletnev leading the Russian National Orchestra, and Sir Neville Marriner with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Getty’s life in music is the subject of Peter Rosen’s 2016 documentary There Will Be Music. Recent honors include the European Culture Prize and an inaugural induction into Opera America’s Hall of Fame. Gordon Getty is a Pentatone artist and his music is published by Rork Music. For more information, visit www.gordongetty.com.