Kurt Weill, Elmer Rice, and Langston Hughes's 1946 "Broadway opera" (based on Rice's 1929 play) has never been as warmly embraced by either opera or musical theater as the similarly ambitious Porgy and Bess--and the work's long overdue Lyric Opera premiere shows why. Both the material and this production suffer from second-act slump, stretching the story out too long after its tragic climax. But the two-hour first act is a marvel--lyrical and ironic, ominous and joyful, heartbreaking and hilarious. This slice-of-life study of the inhabitants of a New York tenement captures the racial, ethnic, sexual, and ideological diversity of urban life in a nation of "foreigners," dramatizing how that diversity is a source of both camaraderie and conflict. Weill's score fuses jazz, blues, children's songs, Italian opera, boogie-woogie, German expressionist dissonance, and show tunes in the mold of Gershwin, Berlin, and Rodgers, while the libretto is peppered with colorful slang as well as poetry (including some lines by Walt Whitman). Director David Pountney's staging makes imaginative use of David Fielding's set, a New York street that at key moments turns sideways to reveal a Manhattan skyline; the orchestra and chorus, under the baton of Richard Buckley, convey the score's operatic grandeur. Heading the large cast is Catherine Malfitano, agonizingly honest as Anna Maurrant, the beaten-down housewife whose tentative and doomed romance with a milkman (Lara Teeter) drives her bullying husband (Dean Peterson) to violence. Unfortunately, the passion of Malfitano's performance isn't matched by Lori Ann Fuller as Anna's daughter, Rose, who embodies a new generation's drive to escape the slums; Fuller sings beautifully, but her reaction to her mother's violent fate is far too controlled. Stronger support comes from Gregory Turay as Rose's suitor Sam (who sings the exquisite lament "Lonely House"), Judith Christin as a busybody neighbor, Philip Kraus as an elderly socialist rabble-rouser, Anthony Mee as a bouncy Italian, Erin Wood and Lauren McNeese as a pair of pram-pushing nursemaids who soothe their charges with a sardonic lullaby ("Hush, baby, hush, your daddy is a lush"), and Stephanie Ann Sheppard and Kirby Ward, whose sizzling tap-jitterbug showpiece "Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed" (choreographed by Nicola Bowie) rivals the best of Broadway. Friday, October 12, Monday, October 15, Wednesday, October 24, Saturday, October 27, and Saturday, November 3, 7:30 PM, and Sunday, October 21, and Wednesday, October 31, 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.