Opera North’s Street Scene Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 20 March 2020

Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood


Kurt Weill’s Street Scene marks the new Opera North’s season at the Leeds Grand Theatre. Set to Elmer Rice’s book and Langston Hughes and Rice’s lyrics, Street Scene was premiered in 1947 in New York. This American opera, which has a musical twist, gives an insight to a Manhattan neighbourhood and its residents’ daily lives over 24 hours.

This new Opera North production is set to Weill’s musical composition where Act One, introduces the families and their unassuming livelihoods in a tenement. Anna Maurrant (Giselle Allen) is introduced along with her drink dependent husband, Frank (Robert Hayward), and their daughter, Rose, (Gillene Butterfield). Sam Kaplan (Alex Banfield) is also introduced and falls in love with Rose. The first act is fairly lengthy but it is appropriately paced to fit with the musical components and tempo for the retelling of the plot and the families concerned. The pace is picked up in Act Two when drama unfolds when it becomes apparent when Anna (Allen) and her lover, Steve Sankey (Paul Gibson), are discovered by husband Frank (Hayward). Tragedy follows which changes daughter Rose’s life forever as conclusively reflected in the final stages of the opera.

Conducted by James Holmes, Street Scene’s musical composition has varied genres which arrange and combine both opera and Broadway style singing and dancing – particularly the fast paced energetic Moon Face, Starry Eyed number performed by Mae Jones and Dick McGann (Michelle Andrews and Rodney Vubya) in the latter stage of the first act. The stories being shared indicate the harsh reality of living communally and the complexities which are explained musically and lyrically by the tenants. However they are able to reminisce about the past and notably hope for better lives in the future as picked up in Somewhere I Never Could Believe (Allen), Lonely House (Hayward) and What Good Would the Moon Be? (Butterfield)

Francis O’Connor’s dark staging, in support with Howard Hudson’s lighting, is exceptional with a multitude of suitcases snaking the four levels and the communal spaces, space is well used, of the tenement building. Directed by Matthew Eberhardt this is an enjoyable production with outstanding performances from the cast and its diverse and reflective music accommodating the reality of living in a tenement in the 1940s.

Street Scene resonates with the Weill’s migrant journey from Germany to America when he fled the Nazis in the 1930s and today is a similar picture of neighbourhoods here and worldwide with many migrants who have been in a similar predicament as the composer. The opera is considered one of America’s greatest operas and the story and music is written and captured ahead of its time as it continues to relate in the 21st Century.