Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, adapted from Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is described broadly as an ‘American opera’, but in many ways it’s the original soap opera.
A down-and-dirty street level saga to rival anything seen in EastEnders, it chronicles the highly melodramatic lives of a disparate group of New Yorkers over a 24-hour period.
There’s Frank (Geof Dolton), the hard-drinking stagehand whose wife Anna (Elena Ferrari) is having it away with the milkman. There’s studious Sam (Paul Curievici), whose affections for their sweet daughter Rose (Susanna Hurrell) are rivalled by a married man. And there’re no end of nosey passers-by, curtain-twitching housewives and cheeky children to ensure the community grapevine thrums with the intensity of the heatwave that’s hit it.
Weill’s score (written in 1946) is a hotch-potch of musical influences and contains a few stand-out melodies including “I Got a Marble and a Star”, "Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow" and “We’ll Go Away Together”. There’s even an ode to ice cream.
Opera Group aristic director John Fulljames’ production, first seen at the Young Vic in 2008, is logistically stunning (it features a chorus of 50, the BBC Concert Orchestra and a small army of children) though initially struggles to engage. This is due in no small part to the fact that Langston Hughes' lyrics get drowned out and dialogue gets lost in the air above our heads.
But once the ear attunes it’s enchanting, and though Rice’s book is clunkingly episodic, it builds towards one of the most visceral and thrilling climaxes you’re likely to witness. And it’s beautifully sung throughout – if only we could hear it better.
I’m not convinced Street Scene a masterpiece to rival The Threepenny Opera, and I freely admit that at times my eyes drifted to study the countless chalk scribblings adorning the stage rather than the action on it. But it’s an epic revival that Weill fans will not want to miss.