OP0607. STREET SCENE (Kurt Weill & Langston Hughes), recorded 1989, w. Carl Davis Cond. English National Opera Ensemble; Kristine Ciesinski, Janis Kelly, Bonaventura Bottone, Richard van Allan, Catherine Zeta Jones, etc. (UK) 2-TER 1185, Slipcase Edcition w. Elaborate 77pp. Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! -5015062118520
“Kurt Weill's 1947 Broadway musical STREET SCENE went unproduced in the U.K. after its unsuccessful initial production, and it continued to be largely ignored in Great Britain in subsequent decades, even as it began to gain a footing among American opera companies. Then, curiously, there were two major British productions in the same year, 1989, one undertaken by the Scottish Opera in Glasgow, and the other by the English National Opera in London, and both were recorded. This one is billed as the Original London Cast album, which is technically accurate, even though usually, when a production follows the first one by 42 years, even in another country, it's thought of as a revival. There are similarities between the Scottish Opera recording (made in sessions in August 1989 and March 1990, and billed as a studio cast recording due to cast substitutions) and this one, made in the weeks after the October 12, 1989, London opening, including some overlap in the casts. Specifically, this album treats the work more as a Broadway show, while the Scottish Opera album wants to claim it for opera houses. The cast here, while exhibiting obvious signs of vocal training, sings with a sense of the meaning of the lyrics and the varieties of musical styles, while the opera singers from the Scottish Opera album are more concerned with the beauty of their vocal tones. Even the dialogue sections (and both albums are ‘complete’ renderings of the entire work, running in the range of two-and-a-half hours) differ, with the Scottish Opera characterizations larger and more stylized, the ones on this album more detailed and naturalistic, despite the inconsistent accents. Going for opera legitimacy, the Scottish recording tends to underplay the numbers written as show tunes, such as ‘Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow’ and ‘Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway’, and the swing dance tune ‘Moon Faced, Starry Eyed’. This album gives them their due, with a young Catherine Zeta Jones getting her showcase (more as a dancer on-stage, it's true, than in her vocal performance on the album) in the latter. As a result, this recording is the more satisfying of the two, and truer to the work as originally conceived. It's also a far more extensive rendering of the score than the Original Broadway Cast album, valuable as that LP (a lavish effort for its time) remains.”
- William Ruhlmann, allmusic.com
“Kurt Weill regarded this work highly, predicting it would be remembered as his masterpiece. It is a difficult work to peg; is it opera with some spoken dialogue, or Broadway with a large amount of musical underscore and mood music? Perhaps the answer simply lies in the term ‘Musical Theater’. The fact is that its subject, a day in the life of a poor New York neighborhood, portrays a truly ‘American’ experience, written by a knowing tourist who loaded the work with wonderful drama and good music. The musical/opera is hard to cast, for it takes a very large number of performers, all of whom must be capable singing actors. It seems amazing then, that both successful full-length recordings of STREET SCENE were done at almost the same time, without duplicating any cast members. Though John Mauceri’s Decca recording is good, I think that this Jay CD has a casting edge. Kristine Ciesinski makes a magnificent Anna. Her singing of ‘A Boy Like You’ is womanly and motherly, whereas that of Josephine Barstow on Decca is matronly, more like a grandmother. Richard Van Allan, as Anna’s suspicious husband, is dark and brooding, much more menacing than Decca’s Samuel Ramey. And Bonaventura Bottone, as Sam, makes ‘Lonely Town’ a more fluid and memorable experience than the competition’s Jerry Hadley, who sounds self-conscious and patronizing. Jay’s Carl Davis weilds a slightly more incisive baton than Mauceri, and his chorus enunicates more clearly.
The main difference between the two performances harks back to an effort to categorize it. Mauceri’s seems more opera; this one seems more Broadway. On the Jay production there is an obvious effort to make every word intelligible and there is a greater sense of drama. Jay even has a slight edge in sound, where its Dolby Surround techniques are very effective not only in big crowd scenes, as voices and ambulance sounds come from the sides and rear, but also in imparting a more three-dimensional quality to the voices."
"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."
- THE 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
"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, 1979