Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s 1946 “Broadway Opera” is rarely revived in Scotland, the last time, the 1989 Scottish Opera/ENO production.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Elmer Rice (who wrote the book for the opera), Weill considered the score his masterpiece. One of his exile works, it was written in the US after fleeing the rise of Nazism in Germany in the inter-war years. Street Scene also has the distinction of being the winner of the first Tony Award for Best Original Score.
It’s the stoop of a New York brownstone in the Lower East Side of Manhattan over two swelteringly hot summer days in 1946.
The gossip flows as the vast cast of characters float in and out of the action: Anna Maurrant is having an affair with the milkman, but in reality Anna is seeking some comfort away from her monstrous bully of a husband, Frank. Rose her daughter is torn between two men – one a safe choice, the other not so.
Street Scene inhabits an interesting place in the world of theatre. A transition between European Opera and what we now know as modern American musical theatre. It has been said it places perfectly between Weill’s own Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.
The music on its own is absolutely intriguing, mixing operatic arias such as Somehow I Never Could Believe, which is almost pure Puccini, Jazz and Blues in I Got a Marble and a Star and Lonely House, Broadway in Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow and the Jitterbugging, Moon Faced, Starry Eyed. There’s light and shade, drama and comedy and romance and tragedy all in one show. The mix of musical styles mirroring the multi-racial melting pot of the tenement’s ethnically diverse inhabitants.
While the book can suffer from too much going on, writer Rice had his finger firmly on the vibrant pulse of New York in the 40s. Where this Royal Conservatoire of Scotland production wins out is the stupendous cast and the stunning visual design. Any qualms about it’s 3 hour-plus running time are assuaged by the glorious sound and visuals. The music sounding at its most goose bump-inducing in the ensemble numbers.
Bravo and brava to all concerned. This is a production of infinite quality and a fitting showcase of the performers of the future, who, on the basis of this production, can and will go far.
Images: © Robbie McFadzean