Venue: Opera North
Director: Matthew Eberhardt
Conductor: James Holmes
Performance Dates: 25 January, 12, 20, 28 February (in Leeds); 3, 6 March (Newcastle); 13 March (Salford Quays)
Performances on 17, 20 March in Nottingham canceled
Opera North’s Street Scene has closed, but the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the performance remains available until 7 May! See trailer and reviews below. Photos by Clive Barda.
“Despite the central tragedy, what makes this production work remarkably well is the wide scope and the unique way it defies genres. Whilst there are elements of tragedy and drama, there’s also immense joy and moments of rip roaring comedy. The music is brilliant, ranging from brilliant ensemble numbers (‘Ain’t It Awful, The Heat’) to a romantic, intimate duet featuring Rose and Sam Kaplan (Alex Banfield) where they yearn about a world away from Manhattan. In Street Scene, New York City isn’t necessarily the city of dreams and opportunity it’s often portrayed to be, but a stifling, dirty and miserable world full of resentment and regret.”
–Shamima Noor, A Younger Theatre, 23 January 2020 (5 stars)
“Street Scene, now given a fine new production by Opera North, is in some respects the most ambitious and arguably the finest work of Kurt Weill’s American period. With lyrics by Langston Hughes and a book by Elmer Rice, based on his own 1929 play, it depicts 24 hours in the lives of a largely immigrant community in a tenement block in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which in turn throws into relief the central narrative of Frank Maurrant’s murder of his unfaithful wife, Anna, and the impact of the tragedy on their daughter, Rose, and her shy Jewish boyfriend Sam Kaplan. . . .
“Matthew Eberhardt’s striking production, meanwhile, locates the work firmly in the time of its premiere, but avoids the naturalistic approach favoured by some directors. The staircases and platforms of Francis O’Connor’s set suggest the outline of the tenement block while allowing us to see the comings and goings within, and the central hallway light rises to become the moon as Rose and Sam dream of a better life elsewhere.”
–Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 19 January 2020 (4 stars)
Street Scene set from Opera North production
“. . . this hybrid creature has now found a near-definitive interpretation thanks to a company in the north of England. Opera North, based in the city of Leeds, has developed an ensemble style in which members of its robust, multitasking chorus step up to play leading solo roles. This approach pays splendid dividends. Characters spring from the crowd of tenants. Their stories spotlight the local crises within families, and in troubled minds, which build into a simmering sense of foreboding. This uneasy congregation of New Yorkers–Italian, Swedish, Jewish, German and (at the margins, in those still-segregated times) African-American–stirs a pot of passions that don’t melt so much as boil.”
–B.T., The Economist, 3 February 2020
The ensemble cast performs the “Ice Cream Sextet”
“At one climactic point in Act 2, the entire cast was perched at all heights on the stage, like singing birds in a huge aviary. It was a thrilling, enthusiastically applauded moment in this ensemble work which matches well with the long-established strengths of the Opera North Chorus. Its members were stretched rewardingly into taking on a substantial number of individual characterisations and into working on more or less equal terms with the principals. Street Scene is a landmark work which celebrates the social diversity of 1940s New York as found in a brownstone tenement, with roots in a play of the same name by Elmer Rice. Kurt Weill was convinced that his ‘Broadway opera’ was his masterpiece. . . . a Golden Age Broadway musical with extra ingredients, which became a jumping-off point for Bernstein and Sondheim.”
–Richard Wilcocks, BachTrack, 19 January 2020 (4 stars)
“Among the leads, Giselle Allen is luminous as desperate, caring Anna Maurrant, having an affair with the local milkman Steve Sankey (Paul Gibson) whose consequences are fatal for them both. Robert Hayward brings a degree of empathy to Anna’s bullying husband Frank. Gillene Butterfield [photo at right] suggests the aspirational qualities of their daughter Rose, adored by bookish neighbour Sam Kaplan, to whom Weill gives one of the show’s best songs in ‘Lonely House,’ which Alex Banfield voices in a silvery tenor.
“With a company founded on Opera North’s chorus and regular guest artists, this is an exceptional ensemble production, with Weill specialist conductor James Holmes ensuring the highest musical values.”
–George Hall, The Stage, 20 January 2020
“Youth nearly stole the show, too, in that jitterbug number, with guest singer-dancers Michelle Andrews and Rodney Vubya as Mae and Dick. Gary Clarke’s choreography rose to the occasion there . . . Among other characterisations from the Opera North chorus, Claire Pascoe’s Noo Joisey tones as the busybody Mrs Jones were a delight, and so were Dean Robinson’s Jewish left-wing intellectual Abraham, Amy Freston as his teacher daughter Shirley, Miranda Bevin, Amy J Payne and Victoria Sharp as immigrant wives Greta, Olga and Laura, and Paul Gibson as Steve Sankey the philandering milk money collector.”
–Robert Beale, The Arts Desk, 27 January 2020
Children’s Game from Act 2 of Street Scene
“I heard sharp intakes of breath around me twice in this show. The first was when Frank, the washed-up, alcoholic husband of the driven-to-adultery Anna, lashes out at the immigrants who also live in this slum building. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ he shouts. And the second time was when Rose, Frank’s daughter, is on the brink of falling in love with Sam, the bookish, caring Jewish boy downstairs, only to be told curtly by Sam’s sister that ‘oil and water don’t mix.’ . . .
“What also makes this show special, apart from James Holmes’s impeccable conducting of the fired-up orchestra, is that–with the seasoned exceptions of Robert Hayward as Frank and Giselle Allen as Anna–it is mostly cast from Opera North chorus members, who seize their chances with verve. In particular, Gillene Butterfield as Rose and the promising young tenor Alex Banfield as Sam play their cut-short love affair with touching tenderness, while Michelle Andrews and Rodney Vubya light up the stage with an exuberant drunken jitterbug.”
–Richard Morrison, The Times, 20 January 2020 (5 stars)
Dick (Rodney Vubya) and Mae (Michelle Andrews) at the end of their jitterbug
“A vibrant company, spectacular visual effects and loads of authentic atmospheric detail undoubtedly lift this new production of Street Scene into the ‘not to be missed’ category. And the Orchestra of Opera North’s brilliant realisation of Kurt Weill’s delectable score, conducted by James Holmes, is as good as it gets.”
–Geoffrey Mogridge, Wharfedale Observer, 21 January 2020