Coming up: Street Scene

Q:  What did singer-songwriter-cellist-banjoist Leyla McCalla‘s gig last Wednesday at the Iron Horse have in common with the music theater masterwork opening tonight at UMass Amherst’s Rand Theater?

A:  This song.


Sung by the lovelorn young Sam Kaplan in Act I, “Lonely House” is the best-known selection from “Street Scene,” the 1946 “American opera” (the creators’ term) by composer Kurt Weill and librettist Langston Hughes, based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning 1929 Elmer Price play of the same name.  A German Jewish immigrant, collaborating with the unofficial poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance on the adaptation of an honored work of American theater?  What a great country!

Now, how would one define “American opera?”  Is is just an opera composed by an American?  Or is it an piece of music theater that addresses the essential American themes of class, race and ethnicity, with music that owes as much to American vernacular as to European classical traditions, and which would be equally at home on Broadway as at Lincoln Center?  Works for me.  If you enjoy the other great American operas, such as “Showboat,” “Porgy and Bess” and “West Side Story,” you’ll love “Street Scene.”  Tickets here.

Here’s Leyla McCalla’s version of “Lonely House”:

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