English National Opera Orchestra

Street Scene [Original London Cast]

  • AllMusic Rating
    8
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

Kurt Weill's 1947 Broadway musical Street Scene went unproduced in the U.K. after its unsuccessful initial production, and it continued to be largely ignored in Great Britain in subsequent decades, even as it began to gain a footing among American opera companies. Then, curiously, there were two major British productions in the same year, 1989, one undertaken by the Scottish Opera in Glasgow, and the other by the English National Opera in London, and both were recorded. This one is billed as the Original London Cast album, which is technically accurate, even though usually, when a production follows the first one by 42 years, even in another country, it's thought of as a revival. There are similarities between the Scottish Opera recording (made in sessions in August 1989 and March 1990, and billed as a studio cast recording due to cast substitutions) and this one, made in the weeks after the October 12, 1989, London opening, including some overlap in the casts. (Meriel Dickinson, Blythe Duff, and Matthew Costello are on both recordings, playing the same small parts in each. Also, Charmian Hoare served as dialogue coach for both, achieving greater success in Scotland.) But the differences are more telling. Maybe it's that a recording made by the stage cast while they're still performing the show live has more conviction than one made over a period of months by a combination of stage performers and hired guns. Or maybe it's that conductor Carl Davis and producer John Yap simply have taken a different approach from the one by the Scottish Opera conductor John Mauceri and producer Michael Haas. Specifically, this album treats the work more as a Broadway show, while the Scottish Opera album wants to claim it for opera houses. The cast here, while exhibiting obvious signs of vocal training, sings with a sense of the meaning of the lyrics and the varieties of musical styles, while the opera singers from the Scottish Opera album are more concerned with the beauty of their vocal tones. Even the dialogue sections (and both albums are "complete" renderings of the entire work, running in the range of two-and-a-half hours) differ, with the Scottish Opera characterizations larger and more stylized, the ones on this album more detailed and naturalistic, despite the inconsistent accents. Going for opera legitimacy, the Scottish recording tends to underplay the numbers written as show tunes, such as "Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow" and "Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway," and the swing dance tune "Moon Faced, Starry Eyed." This album gives them their due, with a young Catherine Zeta Jones getting her showcase (more as a dancer on-stage, it's true, than in her vocal performance on the album) in the latter. As a result, this recording is the more satisfying of the two, and truer to the work as originally conceived. It's also a far more extensive rendering of the score than the Original Broadway Cast album, valuable as that LP (a lavish effort for its time) remains.

blue highlight denotes track pick