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Forty years after the show first opened on Broadway, Scottish Opera put on their tap shoes in a collaboration with English National Opera and present Kurt Weill’s
musical. Street Scene. Andrew Burnet finds out from conductor. John Mauceri. why the opera is not as great a departure from Weill‘s Threepenny Opera as critics suggest. while Alice Bain talks to David Toguri,
‘I think Kurt Weill is important for our titnes because he wrote musical theatre for everylmdy. He fought snobbery on every level. and what he has to say about human behaviour is as relevant today as it was 30, 40. 50 years ago. I think he is a central composer of our century and one who will be most valued in the next century.‘
It's as hard not to be convinced by the careful. authoritative delivery of John Mauceri as it is to judge his age from the healthy. bronzed face which only wrinkles when it opens into one of his broad. generous smiles. We are discussing the forthcoming production of Weill‘s Street Scene by Scottish Opera (in co-production with linglish National Opera). of which Mauceri has been Musical Director for the past two years.
A (ierman-born Jew. Weill escaped the holocaust. despite being described by l litler (flatterineg
10'l‘he List 1‘) May— 1.lune 1989
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choreographer of the stars.
enough) as 'one of the three most dangerous men in (iermany‘. The other two. who also made good their escape before it was too late. were Freud and Einstein.
Weill's exile in New York brought him into contact with a new milieu of influence. which changed the direction of his work in a way which his critics say ruined him. (ione were the harsh. strident collalmrations with Bertolt Brecht. In their place was a more melodious sound. which to some cars lacked depth and integrity. Although Street Scene ran for 1-18 performances. it lost money and was thought in certain quarters to pander to the populist tastes of America.
Mauceri does not agree. ‘If you‘re going to accuse him of selling out to commercialism you have to accuse him of having done that with 'l'liree/n’nny Opera and all along. He wanted to be popular. not because of money but because he wants people
to hear his music and to believe what he believes.
‘l le was influenced by blues and be-bop. but the subtle references are to Wagner and Puccini. When Mr Sankcy the milkman comes in. the first four notes are right out of the prelude to 'l’rt's'tun. People don't tend to hear it because they're singing in American linglish and they‘re walking about in housecoats in the streets of New York. but I can assure you if you sang some of this in an Italian translation a lot of it would sound very much like l’uccini. It all to me sounds like Kurt Weill because he uses these referential points to subtly make the audience see it in the context ofopera while he‘s also giving them Broadway musical numbers.‘
"l’he Broadway of the 30s and 4(ls was a very political place. lra (ierschwin and Oscar l lammerstein were very strong on certain liberal
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causes like racial equality. war. . . Weill‘s Indy In The Dark is about mental illness. In Shaw/null. the audience that has paid its money to hear these happy Broadway songs is rooting for the black people to have equality with the white people. which is pretty powerful stuff for 1927.‘
Street Srene belongs to the era after Weill’s move to New York. He was proud to be an honorary American. but also felt homesick. 'l'hese mixed feelings are expressed in Street Seene. which concerns the experience of ‘the great mix‘ of races in New York. For the libretto, adapted from the Pulitzer l’ri/e-winning play by Jewish American lilmer Rice. Weill chose to commission leading black poet Langston l lughes: a direct reversal ol the norm. which had white American librettists writing for black characters. though by mutual