Street Scene, 2014


Bath Opera’s fully staged production at the Wroughton Theatre last week is likely to have started something of a revolution in the amateur operatic world.

Most people have heard of Kurt Weill, many may even have performed some of his music, but few are likely to have even heard of his opera ‘Street Scene’. Written in 1946 it is a vivid recreation of New York tenement life of the sort that he experienced himself a decade earlier as a new immigrant. Based on Elmer Rice’s play of the same name, it portrays a day in the busy, complex life of a small number of families and neighbours in a cultural melting pot of different nationalities. The plot centres on a would-be love affair, a doomed marriage, and of course a tragic outcome. All good operatic stuff, laced with lechery, betrayal, murder and dramatic tension, it serves up some splendid arias and quite outstanding ensemble pieces. In all a massive challenge for any amateur company and, for Bath Opera in this production by Jane Clark and Peter Blackwood, a triumph which other companies are already planning to emulate.

Behind the two storeys of the full-sized slice of New York apartment building and into whose rooms the audience peered, was housed the two dozen orchestral players. These highly skilled musicians, conducted by Peter Blackwood, were the unseen stars of the show playing Weill’s tonally difficult and rhythmically challenging score with relaxed aplomb. On these secure foundations was built the confident performances of the singers out front in the narrow street between the building and the audience. This closeness of performers to the audience added greatly to the intimacy needed for this piece. It also enabled the singers to do without intrusive microphones. Each of the thirty four named characters were well defined individually but also performed as an excellent, well-drilled vocal ensemble. The backstage crew also worked magic in creating the massive set with such detail. And it worked well, too - plaster peeled, doors closed, guns fired, everything stayed together but the birth of the baby was heralded with mega-decibel crying in stereo: it must have been a genuine monster-baby.

It was an unusually strong cast for an amateur opera production and many of the best voices were in the small parts and the Graduation Girls (Emma Webb, Ieva Lakute, Georgia Stephens, Lauren Cheshire) were good examples of clear tone and diction. The two Nursemaids (Nicole Kirkman, Katherine Adams) complete with Silver Cross prams, sang their duet beautifully, just one of the evening’s real gems. Another stand-out performance, dimensionally and vocally, was that of Tom Magnone as the Italian music teacher in the ice cream sextet; his waistcoat was testimony to hours of practice at the local Gelateria. The female scandal mongers’ commentary throughout was beautifully judged and perfectly sung by Hannah Lockwood, Carole Lockwood and Rosie Atkins, and the warring partnership of Mr and Mrs. Maurrant robustly characterised by Neil Kirkman and Judy Davis. Toby Fox-Evans as their sprightly son Billy was well portrayed. The surprise act of the show was that of Mae Jones (Aimee Louise Barlow) and Dick McGann (Shaun Driver) whose dance sequence in the street was of professional standard and an absolute delight.

The evening’s vocal and dramatic honours however went to Rose Lambert and Rupert Drury who played the two young would-be lovers, Rose and Sam. Both excelled in their dramatically rounded performances but their respective abilities as singers were seriously impressive, Rose for her ability to communicate vocally and Sam for his musical accuracy, pure tenor tone and vocal consistency across the whole range. Bravo indeed. The whole production was an impressive achievement with a genuine team performance. ‘Street Scene’ was clearly worth the trepidation and nervous anticipation mentioned by the group’s chairman, Hannah Lockwood to which must be added their courage in taking a virtually unknown work and making it, surely, the next must-have production for operatic groups everywhere.

John Broad

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