Opera Scotland

Street Scene

Music

Kurt Weill (born Dessau, 2 March 1900; died New York, 3 April 1950)

Text

Elmer Rice (Book); Langston Hughes (Lyrics).

Source

Play (1929) by Elmer Rice.

 

Premieres

First performance: New York (Adelphi Theater), 9 January 1947.

First UK performance: London (Royal Academy of Music), 6 June 1983 (semi-staged).

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 May 1989.

Scottish Opera première: As above.

 

Background

For most of the time since his sadly early death, Kurt Weill’s reputation has rested upon a small number of works that he created in Germany at the start of his career, usually in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. While The Threepenny Opera, Mahagonny, Happy End and others contain much that is excellent, the relative neglect of his later works is unfortunate. In recent years it has become possible to gain an acquaintance with some of the later pieces from his residence in the USA, of which the ‘Broadway opera’ Street Scene is an outstanding example. Knickerbocker Holiday, Lady in the Dark, and One Touch of Venus all opened on Broadway and boasted collaborators of the stature of Moss Hart, S J Perelman and Ogden Nash. The source play had been widely performed, even in Europe, and Weill had collaborated with Rice on other projects before persuading him to allow a musical adaptation. The initial Broadway run, with trained opera singers in the leading roles, lasted for 148 performances.

 

Main Characters

Frank Maurrant (bass-baritone)

Anna Maurrant, his wife (soprano)

Rose Maurrant, their daughter (soprano)

Sam Kaplan, a neighbour (tenor)

Daniel Buchanan, a neighbour (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

This action takes place in a potentially claustrophobic setting – in front of a New York City brownstone tenement block in the heat of midsummer. Most of the characters are residents of the block with their neighbours, friends and visitors. The drama is a very successful depiction of a slice of life in this poverty-stricken community. Many of the characters are immigrants – Jewish, Norwegian, Welsh, Scots, Italian, etc., with the younger generation shown to be essentially Americanised. Their little dramas including childbirth, student graduation, petty disputes and eviction all form the beautifully depicted background of gossiping neighbours.

The main plot deals with the jealousy of the thuggish Frank Maurrant. He drinks heavily, and when at home is over-controlling of his family. His wife Anna has started an affair with Steve Sankey, who lives nearby. Sam Kaplan, who lives in the block with his father and sister, loves Rose. She sees him merely as a friend, and is being courted by a work colleague, Harry Easter, who wants her to be his mistress. That night, Anna spends hours with Mrs Buchanan, who is in labour. Next day, one family of neighbours is evicted while Anna invites Sankey upstairs. Maurrant returns unexpectedly, and discovering the lovers, he shoots them both. After his capture by the police, he is reconciled to his inevitable execution, and asks Rose to look after her younger brother, Willie. She agrees, but makes it clear that they will move away from New York.

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