Friday, January 10, 2020

Sergio Mims: Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes opera Street Scene on WHPK-FM Tuesday Jan. 21

Langston Hughes

Sergio A. Mims writes:

I wanted you and all your readers to know that on my weekly classical music show on Tuesday Jan 21. I will be playing Kurt Weill's and Langston Hughes' opera Street Scene based on the Pulitzer Prize winning 1929 play by Elmer Rice with music by Weill and lyrics by Hughes. The opera premiered on Broadway in January 1947.

"It was Weill who referred to the piece as an "American opera", intending it as a groundbreaking synthesis of European traditional opera and American musical theater. He received the first Tony Award for Best Original Score  for his work. Considered far more an opera than a musical, Street Scene is regularly produced by opera companies but has never been revived on Broadway. Musically and culturally, even dramatically, the work inhabits the mid-ground between Weill's Threepenny Opera  and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story."  

It was both Weill and Rice who choose Hughes to write the lyrics for the opera with Weill citing that Hughes could  "lift the everyday language of the people into a simple, unsophisticated poetry."

"In order to enhance the realism of the new work, the collaborators utilized dialogue scenes, sometimes underscored by music. To create music that would portray the ethnic melting pot of characters described in Rice's book, Weill traveled to neighborhoods in New York, watching children at play and observing New Yorkers. Hughes took Weill to Harlem nightclubs to hear the musical idioms of black American jazz and blues". 

Hughes wrote: "The resulting song was composed in a national American Negro idiom; but a German, or someone else, could sing it without sounding strange or out of place"  Weill and many critics have considered the score to be his masterpiece."

The show is broadcast on WHPK-FM in Chicago every Tuesday from 12-3PM (U.S. Central Time) and can be heard locally on 88.5 FM and livestream worldwide on

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