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Street Scene (1946)

American Opera in two acts.

Book by Elmer Rice, based on his play of the same name.
Lyrics by Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings
An Appreciation

Production photo

Ensemble photo, with Sam (Brian Sullivan) and Rose (Ann Jeffreys)
at center, from Broadway production, 1947.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Anna Maurrant (dramatic soprano), Frank Maurrant, (bass-baritone), Willie Maurrant (boy soprano), Rose Maurrant (lyric soprano), Sam Kaplan (tenor), Abraham Kaplan (tenor buffo), Harry Easter (Broadway baritone), Henry Davis (baritone), Lippo Fiorentino (tenor), George Jones (baritone), Carl Olsen (bass), Mrs. Fiorentino (coloratura soprano), Mrs. Jones (mezzo-soprano), Mrs. Olsen (alto), Daniel Buchanan (buffo tenor), Jenny Hildebrand (soprano), 2nd graduate (soprano), 3rd graduate (mezzo-soprano), Mrs. Hildebrand (mezzo-soprano), Nursemaids (soprano, mezzo-soprano), three children, Dick McGann (singer-dancer), Mae Jones (singer-dancer).
Speaking roles -- Mrs. Jones, Steve Sankey, Shirley Kaplan, Vincent Jones, Dr. Wilson, Officer Murphy, city marshal, Fred Cullen, milkman, policeman, old clothes man, intern, ambulance driver, married couple, passerby, neighbors, children.
Orchestra: 1 (picc).1.2.bass cl (cl).1; 2.2.2.0; piano (celesta), harp, timp & perc; strings.
Duration: full evening
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, Chappell Music/Hal Leonard HL00312405
Performance Rights and Rentals: All Territories: EAMC
Authorized Translations: German -- Lys Symonette
Original Production: January 9, 1947, New York, Adelphi Theater, Charles Friedman, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

by Mark N. Grant

Act I

Outside a multi-ethnic Manhattan tenement on a sweltering summer evening, some women are passing the time ("Ain't It Awful, the Heat?") while the janitor takes out the garbage ("I Got a Marble and a Star"). The women switch to gossiping about Anna Maurrant's extramarital affair with Sankey the milkman ("Get a Load of That"); they stop when she enters. Mrs. Maurrant and young Sam Kaplan, who is in love with her daughter Rose, converse as Mr. Buchanan frets about his wife's impending childbirth ("When a Woman Has a Baby"). Then Anna's brutish (and suspicious) husband Frank arrives and demands to know why Rose hasn't come home from work. After Frank goes inside, Anna pours out her frustrations and broken dreams, even as she continues to hope for a better life ("Somehow I Never Could Believe"). When Sankey walks by, Anna follows him, fueling the neighbors' gossip ("Get a Load of That" reprise). Lippo Fiorentino arrives with ice-cream cones for everyone, providing relief (comic and otherwise) from the heat ("Ice-Cream Sextet"). Frank, not amused, rails against kids today and modern society ("Let Things Be Like They Always Was"). The Hildebrand family enters, about to be evicted from their apartment because they can't pay the rent, even though oldest daughter Jenny has just won a scholarship ("Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow").

The building's denizens retire for the night. Sam stays outside to lament his isolation in the midst of so many neighbors ("Lonely House"). After Sam goes in, Rose Maurrant finally enters, escorted by her lecherous boss Harry Easter. Easter tries to seduce her with promises of a show business career ("Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway?"), but Rose rebuffs him ("What Good Would the Moon Be?"). Easter leaves as Frank enters. Mrs. Buchanan goes into labor, and Rose exits to summon the doctor. Mae Jones and her boyfriend Dick, who have been out partying, do a jitterbug on the sidewalk ("Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed"). When Rose returns, Mae's brother Vincent makes a pass at her. Sam comes out to defend her, and Vincent knocks him down. Rose comforts Sam, and the two share their dream of escaping the tenement's squalor ("Remember That I Care").

Act II

Scene 1

Early the next morning; Rose's younger brother Willie and the other children play on the sidewalk ("Catch Me If You Can"). Buchanan's wife has given birth. Rose tells Sam she is on her way to a funeral. Frank says he is going out of town, but he gets truculent when Anna asks when he'll be back. Rose tries to convince Frank to be kinder to Anna, but he rejects her advice ("There'll Be Trouble"). After Frank leaves, Anna sends Willie off to school, telling him that he will make her proud some day ("A Boy Like You"). Rose tells Sam about Harry Easter's offer. Appalled, Sam pleads with Rose to elope with him now; she considers the idea ("We'll Go Away Together") but decides she needs to think it over. Rose leaves for the funeral, and city marshals arrive to evict the Hildebrands, as Sam remains seated on the stoop. Mr. Sankey enters and Mrs. Maurrant invites him up to her apartment. Suddenly Frank reappears. Sam tries to warn Anna, but to no avail. Frank rushes upstairs and shoots Anna and Sankey, who drops dead. Frank escapes in the confusion as an ambulance, policemen, and crowds mob around. Rose returns from the funeral just in time to see her mortally wounded mother carried off on a stretcher ("The Woman Who Lived Up There").

Scene 2

Later that day, two nannies push their baby carriages in front of the tenement and gossip about the murder ("Lullaby"). Rose returns from the hospital where her mother has died. As Sam and his sister Shirley try to comfort Rose, more shots ring out: Frank Maurrant has been captured by the police. Now remorseful, Frank awkwardly tries to explain to Rose why he committed the murders ("I Loved Her Too") as the police lead him away. Sam once more declares his love and implores Rose to go away with him, but she has decided that she must go off on her own ("Don't Forget the Lilac Bush"). Two strangers enter, hoping to rent the Hildebrands' apartment. As evening approaches, the denizens of the building once again sit on the stoop as if nothing happened, gossiping and complaining about the heat ("Ain't It Awful, the Heat?" reprise).

Song list

Ain't it Awful, the Heat?
I Got a Marble and a Star
Get a Load of That
When a Woman has a Baby
Somehow I Never Could Believe
Ice Cream Sextet
Let Things Be Like They Always Was
Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow
Lonely House
Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway?
What Good Would the Moon Be?
Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed
Remember That I Care
Catch Me if You Can
There'll be Trouble
A Boy Like You
We'll Go Away Together
The Woman Who Lived Up There
Lullaby
I Loved Her Too
Don't Forget the Lilac Bush

Recordings

CBS CD MK 44668 Original cast, Maurice Abravanel, cond. [excerpts]
TER Classics CDTER2 1173 (reissue: Musical Heritage Society MHS 523330M) English National Opera cast recording, Carl Davis, cond.
Decca CD 433 371-2 Josephine Barstow, Samuel Ramey, Angelina Réaux, Jerry Hadley, John Mauceri, cond.
Naxos CD 8.12085 Dorothy Sarnoff, Norman Atkins, Polyna Stoska, Brian Sullivan, Hollywood Bowl, August 1949, Izler Solomon, cond.
Video (VHS) VL Klassik VLRM 020 (Europe only)
DVD
Image Entertainment
ID9240RADVD
Ashley Putnam, Marc Embree, Teri Hansen, Kip Wilborn, Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, James Holmes, cond., Francesco Zambello, stage dir., José Montes-Baquer, video dir.

Press Clippings

"American opera has at last been realized. . . . Weill's music is dissonant, melodic, cacophonous, brutal, powerful, and emotional, with incredible climax building upon incredible climax, as the orchestra and singers love, weep, wail and shout the joys and sorrows of life against a stark, sordid background of a great dramatic story of America. . . . It is the finest American work in the operatic idiom that I have ever heard, and that includes most of the works staged by the Metropolitan and in other cities for over a quarter century."
--Musical Digest, 1947

"A musical play of magnificence and glory. . . . With its music and dances, its chorales and lyrics, it finds the song of humanity under the argot of the New York streets."
--New York Times, 1947

"Street Scene is as much an American opera as Porgy and Bess, and I don't hesitate in the least to rank it just as high as the Gershwin classic. . . . With poignant music by Kurt Weill and pointed lyrics by Langston Hughes, [it] is the most exciting and effective production Broadway has seen in many years. There is not a false note in the show, musically or dramatically. Its sense of tragedy never trails off into the merely maudlin; and its feeling for the rich comedy of tenement life never becomes patronizing or just terribly cute."
--Chicago Daily News, 1947

"Street Scene is the best contemporary musical production to grace any American stage. . . . We cannot imagine that an audience from any walk of life would not enjoy it. It has everything."
--Musical America, 1947

"A score which . . . can be readily seen not only as [Weill's] American masterpiece but as a stage work of overpowering impact. . . . How powerfully it can work on the stage, how compellingly Weill's music succeeds in creating dramatic personalities, how rich and resplendent is its variety."
--New York, 1978

"In its slice-of-life realism, its blend of hopeful yearnings and sardonic humor, it has much to say about the American dream that is still absolutely true and frequently moving."
--Newsday, 1978

"The more one sees this opera, the more one is touched by the richness and variety of its musical inspiration, the direct honesty of its sentiments and the sheer skill that creates such a vital piece of musical theater."
--New York Times, 1979

"A brilliant score of kaleidoscopic invention."
--New York Times, 1979

"A most successful hybrid, containing some of the composer's greatest music, which managed to lift a rather ordinary play to a high plane of spiritual experience."
--Musical Opinion, 1990

"This tuneful, dizzyingly eclectic work . . . balances the bleakness and cruelty of its urban milieu with sweetness and gentle idealism; bracing cynicism coexists with humanistic sympathy toward even the opera's most odious characters . . . . It's remarkable how much of this richly spun tapestry of 1940s life seems timeless."
--Opera News, 2001

"An authentic masterpiece . . . the culmination of Weill's career. . . . Weill throws in jazz, street songs, and snazzily danced jitterbugs . . . but he also employs complex orchestral textures and soaring, verismo arias for his soloists that might have impressed Verdi himself. . . . There really is such a thing as American opera--and it can be very, very good, indeed."
--Washington Times, 2002

"The heart of Street Scene is Weill's masterful score, which is in the irresistibly jazzy and bluesy vein of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, with its growly trumpets, sassy clarinets and seductive piano. . . . Street Scene ranks among the enduring masterpieces of the American musical theater."
--Denver Post, 2002

"For all that West Side Story is a great work, it cannot match the heart and compassion of Street Scene nor hold a candle to its truthfulness."
--Classical Source, 2011

"An exhilarating blend of Puccini-esque melody, bright, brassy, impudent jazz, brooding blues and sparkly Broadway showtune. . . . This is a pungent, gutsy work of music theatre, pulsating to the relentless rhythm of irrepressible urban life."
--Arts Desk, 2011

"Theatre at full stretch and maximum throttle. . . . The power and dramatic sweep of Street Scene prove irresistible."
--The Telegraph, 2011

Also see the concert suite, Street Scenes.