Liceu Review Street Scene
Photo by Antoni Bofill
If only Street Scene had had a longer run: four performances of this vibrant opera simply were not sufficient. As it was, the house was almost completely sold out: when I went along to see if I could get another ticket for another night (pure greed!), there were only about four or five seats left in the whole place. So I guess that a post-event review in this case doesn’t make much difference.
Kurt Weill composed his jazz opera in 1946 both as an “hommage” to the country that gave him shelter from the Nazis and to express his love for American jazz and musical comedy. Not quite an opera— but much, much more than a musical — Street Scene is a portrait of New York’s Lower East Side tenements in the 1930's. Squashed into the tight spaces was an entire cauldron full of diverse immigrants: Irish, Polish, Italian, middle-European Jewish and Germans. The action takes place, as it truly did, and to some extent still does, on the stoops where the inhabitants sat gossiping and sniping at one another while trying to cope with the insufferable summer heat and humidity before the days of airconditioning.
The central theme is the tragic story of the abused wife of a brutish policeman, played with pathos and charm by Sarah Sedwick, who turns to a gentle neighbor for solace and is shot to death by her jealous husband. Her daughter Rose (Susan Hurrell), typical of the second generation of immigrants of the time, was pulling herself up into another class, and coping with the complexity of falling in love with her Jewish, earnestly intellectual neighbor Sam Kaplan (Paul Curievici). The rest of the inhabitants play supporting roles that create a living, breathing community that rings absolutely true.
The production comes from London, a presentation by The Opera Group/Young Vic, who do a magnificent job on all sides: singing, acting and staging. It is an eccentric production, with the orchestra discreetly tucked away at the back of the stage. At the direction of the stage-director, the Liceu’s orchestra pit was covered over and additional seats placed in the space. I had the good fortune to be sitting there, and it felt as if I, too, was sitting on the stoop.
It is hard to single out anyone for special praise, so good and so evenly matched were the actor-singers. I hope it comes round again, soon.
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As if that had not been treat enough, on Wednesday, March 6th, came Drama Queens, the recital of baroque music by American mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato. Anyone who saw the recent HD movie of the Metropolitan Opera performance of Maria Stuarda will know the joy of hearing Ms. DiDonato sing and seeing her act. Her trembling approach to the scaffold at the end of the filmed opera was both majestic and deeply pathetic. At the Liceu on Wednesday, standing on stage with no scenery, surrounded by a small orchestra, she conjured up the drama, the jealousy, the desperation and sorrow of the betrayed queens of 17th and 18th opera.
Ms. DiDonato has one of the most rich and controlled voices I have ever heard. She goes without effort from full-throated sound to almost inaudible (“almost” being the operative word) notes of incomparable delicacy. Her coloratura, those prolonged trills often described by music writers as “florid,” were anything but. They were precise, exactly where they should be and as long as they should be. Let’s face it, this woman is a brilliant singer.
The audience went wild and Ms. DiDonato provided a generous selection of encores as they clamored for more. It says something in itself that the house was so full for a concert that contained such unfamiliar names as Geminiano Giacomelli, Johan Adolf Hasse, Giovanni Porta and Antonio Cesti.
Nor was she a limelight hog, sharing the stage graciously with the rambunctious leader of the orchestral group, Il Complesso Barocco. Dmitri Sinkovsky, a thrilling violinist who is also a countertenor, is irrepressibly enthusiastic as he plays. At times his gestures were those of a Cajun fiddler, leaping, dipping and skipping as he played; at others, he gracefully inclined over his violin with swooping bowstrokes that reminded one of a 1920s White Russian nightclub player. Or, as my neighbor said, Paganini, who is reputed to have been a very mobile performer. The whole ensemble was way beyond good, and also very relaxed and accessible in their style. I wondered whether the bright red socks that peeked from under their trouser cuffs were a compliment or a challenge to the over-the-top Vivienne Westwood dress that Ms. DiDonato chose to wear. She was a beautiful presence, but there were times when I felt that her dress was fighting back!
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Next up: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with several casts, starting on March 21 for five performances and returning on July 20 for eight more. The A-team will feature Hui He and Roberto Alagna. Tickets are already scarce.
And from April 20 to May 2, there are eight performances of Das Rheingold, Wagner’s opening segment of The Ring, where all the trouble starts.