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The Sunday Opera: Kurt Weill's "Street Scene"

For the Memorial Day weekend, we’re turning to American works on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/30 3:00 p.m.).  The centerpiece of the afternoon is Kurt Weill’s 1947 “American Opera” based on Elmer Rice’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same title, “Street Scene.”   Weill, relishing his American citizenship he had attained just four years earlier, wanted to write a purely American form, one that was a synthesis of the European opera tradition combined with American jazz and blues and Broadway.  Whether or not “Street Scene” did this, Weill’s score did win him the inaugural Tony for best score as well as accolades for lyricist Langston Hughes.   Based in a New York tenement, the main stories focus on the Maurrant family especially the abusive relationship suffered by mother Anna (Josephine Bartstow) at the hands of her husband Frank (Samuel Ramey) and her subsequent search for love with another, the milkman Steve Sankey (Tom McVeigh) which leads to a disastrous outcome.  

This also colors the budding love of their daughter Rose (Angelina Reaux) for the soft spoken neighbor Sam Kaplan (Jerry Hadley).  The large company on this studio cast recording is supported by the Scottish Opera Chorus and Orchestra and is conducted by John Mauceri.   

Our American afternoon continues with three ballets by two American composers.   The first is Virgil Thomson’s 1937 ballet entitled “Filling Station” which was based on the events outlined in a contemporary news item about a variety of people who passed through a filling station one evening. 

The final two works came from the pen of Richard Rodgers.   The first, a ballet he wrote for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s 1939-40 season frames an encounter by two hikers with an old prospector, the only resident of a decaying ghost town, who relates the history and lost fortunes and loves during the town’s heyday to the young couple.  The second Rodgers ballet comes from the 1937 Broadway musical “Babes in Arms.”  “Peter’s Journey” is the daydream of a young man who wins a raffle at a local cinema and is a light and fanciful conclusion to the afternoon.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.