Opera, jazz and blues will combine when this year’s opera workshop presents Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” on Feb. 2, 3 and 4 in Eastvold Auditorium.
“This is a musical hybrid,” said director Jim Brown, assistant professor of music. The show is a combination of the musical language, mixing “grandiose operatic music” with songs inspired by jazz and blues, he explained.
The show depicts the lives of immigrants and lower-class residents living on one city block in 1930s New York City. The characters hail from a variety of backgrounds, and each is a pursuing a dream while dealing with a complex series of seductions, betrayals and murder.
“It’s sort of about the gritty urban immigrant life in the 1930s,” Brown explained. “In one building, you have an Italian and a Swedish couple and an Irish family.”
The musical is based on Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play; Weill collaborated with Harlem poet Langston Hughes to develop the song lyrics.
Brown secured a grant from the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music by submitting a tape of last year’s workshop. In addition to the foundation’s financial support, it will list PLU on its Web site in the archive of grant winners alongside much larger institutions, many which focus solely on music, he said.
“It was an honor to be chosen,” Brown said. “It makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it.”
The production involves a large cast of 45 students. This is the second year Brown will direct the workshop. He said he purposely chooses shows requiring a large cast because it gives more students the opportunity to be involved – and there are plenty of talented students here, he noted.
“Both years there’s been a sense of where I’m going to cast people rather than if I’m going to cast people,” he said.
Students are involved in all aspects of the production. The cast was divided into smaller work crews, and each is responsible for a task, like costuming, props or hair and make-up, Brown said.
Most of the students are taking a J-Term course in addition to being involved in the production, which Brown said has been a “scheduling nightmare.” Students with scheduling conflicts simply attend rehearsal each afternoon for as long as they can.
The workshop alternates through a four-year cycle of different performances, with some accompanied by only the piano and others by the University Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra, under the direction of music professor Jeffrey Bell-Hanson, will accompany this year’s show.
And instead of having the orchestra in a pit at the front of the stage, the group will actually be on the stage, seated behind the actors on a series of platforms designed by Henry Loughman, visiting assistant professor of theatre and the set production manager, Brown said.
This will allow the singers to perform the show without wearing a microphone because their voices won’t have to rise above the orchestra music. It will give the students a more realistic operatic experience, Brown explained.
However, having the orchestra on stage creates one problem: where to place the conductor. The stage production will go high-tech to overcome this issue. Video monitors will be placed at the edges of the stage to broadcast Bell-Hanson’s directions to the student performers.
Performances are being held at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2 and Saturday, Feb. 3, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact the music department at 253-535-7787. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for senior citizens and $5 for alumni and the PLU community.