The musical Street Scene opened on Broadway almost exactly 18 years after the straight play on which it was based. Elmer Rice's drama about the interactions of various ethnic groups in a New York tenement bowed on January 10, 1929, and ran for 601 performances. Composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Langston Hughes' adaptation, with a libretto by Rice that carefully traced the plot of the play, opened on January 9, 1947. It was not nearly as successful, however, running only 148 performances. One reason may have been that plot, an ensemble story with a tragic ending, but another no doubt was Weill's music, which was pitched more toward the opera house than the Broadway stage. Anne Jeffreys, Polyna Stoska, and Brian Sullivan, all trained singers with some opera experience, led the cast, as Weill mixed sub-operatic arias and duets with a few songs that revealed jazz influences or even sounded like conventional Broadway tunes. Like Porgy and Bess, Street Scene was an attempt to have things both ways, to be treated as a "serious" work while also making money. Not surprisingly, that led to commercial failure, but Columbia Records rounded up most of the principal cast members (Norman Cordon being a notable exception) for a recording released well after the show closed. Columbia gave the recording blue-chip treatment, issuing it both on 12" 78s and in the new LP format, also in 12" diameter (at a time when most LPs were ten inches), at the extended running time of 52 minutes. Even so, as Weill himself acknowledged in his liner notes, which took up all of the back cover of the LP, the recording was an abridgement of the score. Still, it was well sung and well played, and it served the function that cast recordings of unsuccessful shows often did, keeping the work alive for later listeners who never had the chance to see the show in its brief run and even making it seem better than customers found it to be in the theater, such that it inspired later revivals, at least in opera houses.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Street Scene, opera|