Virginia Opera brings out the affection, grit and relevance of Weill’s “Street Scene”

Sun Oct 07, 2018 at 5:37 pm
By Grace Jean

Zachary James as Frank Maurrant and Jill Gardner as Anna Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” at Virginia Opera. Photo: Ben Schill.

Virginia Opera presented an uncannily relevant and beautifully detailed production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene Saturday evening at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts.

Based on Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play with lyrics by Langston Hughes, Street Scene depicts a 24-hour period outside a Manhattan brownstone tenement in the 1930s. The libretto focuses on the Maurrant family and their surrounding neighbors, capturing the hubbub of life’s triumphs, travails and everything in between through a musical potpourri of opera arias, jazz, boogie-woogie, show tunes and a sprinkling of jitterbug and coloratura.

Street Scene’s enduring themes of love, familial duty, social injustice and the human condition represent a microcosm of contemporary American society and its norms and conflicts nearly 70 years later. 

Brought to life in a strikingly authentic brownstone set design, Virginia Opera’s production of Weill’s 1947 work, directed by Dorothy Danner, was gritty and grounded in reality. Even the moments of levity—a sextet crowing about ice cream, a neighborhood celebrating a child’s academic achievement—were tinged by moments of gravitas, not for effect, but because of the large cast’s talents and versatility. Every cast member, down to the last bit part, performed his or her role with intense focus and a depth of character.

Maureen McKay played a captivating Rose Maurrant with her sparkly soprano flowing through arias and duets with ease. As Sam Kaplan, Rose’s caring friend and neighbor, David Blalock served up ardent anguish and bluesy loneliness with his solid tenor.

Soprano Jill Gardner sang with strong musicality and expression as Rose’s mother, Anna, portraying the trapped, misunderstood wife through her stoic lines and supple phrases. Bass Zachary James brought an edgy, peppery voice and dominating stage presence to Frank Maurrant, Anna’s violent, suspicious husband. His overbearing demeanor towards his family made the behavioral problems found in Rose’s younger brother Willie, sung with spot-on accuracy by Maxson Taxter, more understandable.

The trio of gossipy neighbor wives, sung wittily by Margaret Gawrysiak (Emma Jones), April Martin (Greta Fiorentino) and Melissa Bonetti (Olga Olsen), helped to propel the Maurrants to their tragic ending. 

But along the way there were other good doses of comic relief: Tenor Benjamin Werley, paying musical tribute to the wonders of ice cream as Lippo Fiorentino; Baritone Trevor Neal as the happy singing and jamming janitor Henry Davis; Ahnastasia Albert (Mae Jones) and David Michael Bevis (Dick McGann) singing and dancing their drunken way in “Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed”; Peter Kendall Clark as Rose’s slimy boss Harry Easter; and Talin Nalbandian and Adriane S. Kerr as the nosy nursemaids.

Brooke Nicole Jones turned in a fine performance as the scholarship-winning student Jennie Hildebrand, spurring the sunny full ensemble number, “Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow.”

Artistic director Adam Turner led the Virginia Opera Orchestra with zest. Under his baton, the orchestra’s 41 musicians surged seamlessly through the opera’s varying styles, sometimes overpowering the singers, pin part due to the production’s open-pit design. Those few moments were thankfully overcome in stride by the maestro whose mostly skillful balancing yielded emotional music to buoy each individual singer in their split moments.

Street Scene will be repeated 8 p.m. Oct. 12 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in Richmond.  



2 Responses to “Virginia Opera brings out the affection, grit and relevance of Weill’s “Street Scene””

  1. Posted Oct 07, 2018 at 9:31 pm by Sandra Winthers

    I don’t know production this critic saw. My husband and friends saw the first performance and thought it was simply awful. Friends and subscribers thoughts the whole thing was a mess. This critic must have been paid to write this review. Virginia Opera used to be so much better than this.

  2. Posted Oct 08, 2018 at 5:23 pm by Sam Soopper

    Ms. Winthers is certainly entitled to her opinion, but I can’t allow the impression to stand that the audience reaction was generally negative, at least at the performance we attended Saturday night.
    While the house was far from full, perhaps because of lack of familiarity with the work, the audience gave it a strong ovation at the curtain.

    Personally, my wife and I thought it was a generally strong performance of a piece that deserves to be heard, one that is really a hybrid of opera and musical. Kudos to Virginia Opera for mounting it.

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