Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay: Opera Arias and Wedding Bells

by Catherine Bigelow

Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay
Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay

At the august age of 88, composer Gordon Getty — and happy December 20 birthday, maestro! — hit a home run November 14 when Festival Napa Valley and Mill Valley Film Festival presented the world premiere of Getty’s latest operatic work, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a heartwarming tale of a beloved schoolmaster.

“Gordon set a world record for the largest-ever opera premiere audience,” enthused Festival Napa Valley founder Rick Walker. “There were 300 people in the theater. But with our cultural partner in China, it streamed there to millions of opera lovers.”

Nathan Granner and Gordon Getty during the world premiere of Getty’s operatic film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, at Marin County’s Smith Rafael Film Center. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

Originally planned as a live opera film, COVID complicated those logistics. So Chips was shot as a feature film: Each vocal was recorded separately in New York or at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, then mixed at Skywalker Sound. In a Treasure Island soundstage, singers acted and precisely lip-synched their roles on camera.

Tenor Nathan Granner, soprano Marnie Breckenridge and baritone Lester Lynch and bass-baritone Kevin Short masterfully sing the leads. And Getty’s longtime music partner, soprano Lisa Delan, served as Chips executive producer.

Getty knew of the 1939 Chips film. But it wasn’t until his colleague Yvette Robbins gifted him a copy of the original 1934 British novella that Getty began to reimagine his new Chips opera as a film.

“The story is so moving, I was in tears on every page,” explained Getty. “Chips’ wife dies in childbirth. But he maintains his inherent goodness, devoting his life to inspire students to lead virtuous lives of success.”

“You never really lose the people you love,” he continued, on the opera’s theme of love, loss and otherworldly spirits. “Like Chips, I talk to my wife (the late Ann Getty) every day.”

Arion Press Curator-in-Residence Tamsin Smith is flanked by Executive Director Rolph Blythe and Development & Program Director Ted Gioia. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

Fine print: Arion Press, our nation’s last printer of museum-quality, hand-set, hot-type books of classic tomes illustrated by prominent artists, has rebranded. Executive Director Rolph Blythe (former Counterpoint publisher) and Development & Program Director Ted Gioia (a critic and Grotto scribe, by way of McSweeney’s) recently welcomed fans to its home in the historic, former steam laundry plant in The Presidio. The duo announced new funding for bookbinding and typecasting apprenticeships as well as a renewed gallery program. “UNCOVERED: The Artists of Arion Press” was organized by poet-painter-author Tamsin Smith, Arion’s inaugural curator-in-residence. She corralled four decades of Arion artistic collaborations by luminaries ranging from Richard Diebenkorn to Julie Mehretu.

“You never really lose the people you love. Like Chips, I talk to my wife (the late Ann Getty) every day.” — Gordon Getty

“It’s a precarious time for arts in San Francisco, I know. Until nine months ago when I joined Arion, I was one of those writers who almost moved to L.A.,” noted Gioia. “Our hope is Arion is a destination for creative souls wandering the City. We’re not just publishing books for collectors. Arion is expanding its vision as a haven for artists and authors.” A literary talk series is also in the works.

Next month during FOG Design+Art — the contemporary art fair that runs January 19–22 at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture — Arion Press bookmakers will receive their overdue star turn at 21POP. (The installation of local creators will again be curated by FOG founder Stanlee Gatti.)

Mark Pincus, Zem Joaquin, author Dave Pell and his wife, entrepreneur Gina Pell, celebrate the launch of Dave Pell’s new book. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

Page turner: Journalist and early-days-of-the-interwebs oracle Dave Pell would’ve preferred to close the book on 2020. But as the (jokingly) self-appointed “Managing Editor of the Internet” and obsessional NextDraft newsletter scribe, Pell was compelled to dwell in that beast’s belly, churning with Trump, fake news, COVID and social media miscreants.

The result: Please Scream Inside Your Heart: Breaking News and Nervous Breakdowns in the Year that Wouldn’t End. At a launch party hosted by his spouse, The What newsletter cofounder Gina Pell, with pals Zem Joaquin and Mark Pincus, the author revealed why his book is dedicated to his parents: The Holocaust survivors sparked their son’s news addiction from their painful experience that well-vetted news is a life-or-death matter.

“Instead of a ball, my dad and I bonded throwing news stories back and forth like editors at a New York Times Page One meeting. Once the internet arrived, I realized I could build a product to counterpunch off the news, which is my favorite way of interacting with content, without having to kissass an editor,” Pell explained, wryly, of his editorial process.

The Pells met at San Rafael High School, where Dave worked on the school paper. And Gina did edit Please Scream. Her husband lovingly admits his book would not have seen the light of day without her.

“While the rest of us were freaking out and baking bread, my husband spent 2020 writing a book while producing his daily newsletter. And I raised our kids,” teased Gina. “So, honey, this actually is an intervention.”

Getty wedding-a-go-go: Boldfaced buzz enveloped the City on November 4–6 as artist and Ford model Ivy Getty, who was raised in EssEff by her grandparents, Gordon and Ann Getty, wed her love, photographer Tobias Engel. This starry mid-twenties couple hosted 500 family and lifelong friends for what many dubbed “The Wedding of the Century.” As the mechanics of this spectacular three-day fete were all locally produced, Grandpa Getty may’ve also single-handedly supplied one of the greatest work stimulus acts since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Stay tuned: In the January 2022 issue, we’ll have all the delicious deets and swoonworthy images in the Nob Hill Gazette’s brand-new “Weddings” section.

Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets, boldface names and juicy tidbits. Gotta item to share? Email [email protected].

Related Articles

Back to top button