Teen desire, forbidden love, and brutal vengeance all simmering in an urban melting pot proved to be an irresistible combination for composer Kurt Weill, who so loved Elmer Rice’s play Street Scene that he longed for years to adapt it to an opera.
Rice eventually relented, and with remarkable results: Weill’s adaptation of the tale of family life gone wrong on the streets of 1940s New York won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score back in 1947. Today, Street Scene remains a timelessly tragic tale woven around the lives of an ordinary family embroiled in turmoil amid two sweltering days in summertime.
Kurt Weill’s Street Scene will be presented by Oberlin Opera Theater beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 5, in Hall Auditorium on the campus of Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music. The show continues with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday, November 7 and 8, and closes with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, November 9.
The production is the centerpiece of a week of events at Oberlin in honor of Kurt Weill, from insightful talks led by top Weill scholars, to a cabaret performance featuring music by the late composer. Weill Week at Oberlin is made possible through a grant from the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.
Widely considered Weill’s masterpiece, Street Scene features an enormous ensemble cast and an incredible variety of music inspired by enduring popular sounds of the day: jazz and pop and theatrical tunes, interwoven into engrossing orchestral accompaniment to the tattered lives revealed onstage.
“It’s an American Broadway opera. That’s actually how Kurt Weill described it,” says Jonathon Field, director of Street Scene and associate professor of opera theater at the Oberlin Conservatory. Indeed, once Weill had Rice’s approval to move forward with the story, he embedded himself on the streets and in the clubs of New York, often in the company of lyricist Langston Hughes—the better to deliver an authentic depiction to the stage.
“If you listen to it, you would think you were actually in New York,” says Field. “It doesn’t have an opera sound—it’s got a Broadway feel to it.”
The action centers around the Maurrant family, whose teen daughter has fallen in love with a neighbor boy and whose mother has taken up an adulterous romance under the nose of her short-fused husband. Their misadventures unfold amid the watchful eyes and loose lips of a host of busybody neighborhood folk.
“This is a piece entirely about the dispossessed: the little people, the proletariat. People who did not have a voice now have representation onstage,” says Field.
Bringing the story to life is a stellar cast of conservatory students, joined by the Oberlin Orchestra under the direction of Christopher Larkin.
Tickets to Street Scene at Oberlin are just $10 ($8 for students), available by calling 800-371-0178, by visiting Oberlin’s Central Ticket Service (67 N. Main Street) from noon-5 p.m. weekdays, or online at oberlin.edu/artsguide.
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