Street Scenes of Madrid

SpainSpain Kurt Weill, Street Scene: Soloists, Liceu Orchestra and Chorus, Tim Murray (conductor), Liceu, Barcelona 5.3.2013 (JMI)

Co-production: The Opera Group and Young Vic

Direction: John Fulljames (original), Lucy Bradley (revival)
Sets and Costumes: Dick Bird
Lighting: Jon Clark

Frank Maurrant: Geoffrey Dolton
Anna Maurrant: Sarah Redgwick
Rose Maurrant: Susanna Hurrell
Sam Kaplan: Paul Curievici
Willie Maurrant: Pablo Cano Carciofa
Shirley Kaplan/Mae Jones: Kate Nelson
Lippo Fiorentino: Robert Burt
Greta Fiorentino: Simone Sauphanor
Charley Hildebrand: Riordan Kelly
Henry Davis: Ashley Campbell

Kurt Weill’s operas are rarely performed in our country, but in recent years there have been some, among them The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony (Teatro Real, 2010) and The Seven Deadly Sins (Teatro Arriaga, 2008). Street Scene is the most important opera of Weill’s American epoch, and this is its first production in Spain. The opera was premiered in Philadelphia in 1946, prior to its presentation on Broadway a few months later. It was not a popular success in New York, but this did not prevent it being awarded the Tony Award for best musical of that year.

The work is right on the border between opera and musical. I think it was Stephen Sondheim who settled the question when he said that opera is whatever is performed in an opera house. It’s certainly an excellent work, better in fact, than many a work in the main repertoire.

Street Sceneis based on the play by Elmer Rice (which won him the Pulitzer Prize 1929), who then wrote the libretto. The action takes place in the years of the Great Depression in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, then inhabited by immigrants of all kinds coming to America in search of a better life. The plot deals with the problems and aspirations of immigrants of different nationalities, poverty, injustice, and violence.

This production by the Liceu originally by John Fulljames, was premiered in London, then traveled through Europe, and visiting Paris’s Chatelet last month. It’s a low cost design, with the orchestra on stage on two levels, the strings at the bottom and the wind sections on an upper terrace. These two layers form a simple structure, together with two staircases, which is where the action takes place. Lucy Bradley directed at the Liceu and she did a good job with a production that arrived here, already well rehearsed. In short: an effective and simple production.

Tim Murray conducted well, supporting the huge cast on stage. The Liceu Orchestra was not at its best, presumably because they are not very familiar with this music. The vocal cast—by and large amplified—was modest without exception. In all cases they were better actors than singers. Of the main characters, baritone Geoffrey Dolton was a convincing interpreter of the violent and jealous Frank Maurrant, with a sonorous voice. Soprano Sarah Redgwick acted a convincing Anna Maurrant, although there was not much of interest in her voice. Susanna Hurrell (Rose Maurrant) was also convincing on stage; unfortunately Tenor Paul Curievici (Sam Kaplan) could not make up in acting what he lacked vocally. With lower-than-usual prices, the Liceu was almost sold out, and filled with younger people than usual.

José Mª Irurzun