Jan. 25, 2020
Composer Kurt Weill’s opera Street Scene will be playing at Biola University Feb. 10-19. As the biggest production in Biola Conservatory of Music’s history, more than 140 students, faculty, and production staff were involved this year to present Biola’s rendition of Street Scene.
The opera takes place in 1940’s New York City on two hot June days on the front steps of a brownstone and offers a fascinating synthesis of styles. The production fuses the work of playwright Elmer Rice, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, and Weill, to include jazz, blues, American musical theatre and classical opera. Members of the cast and crew include students from the Conservatory, music and non-music majors, as well as students from Biola’s Youth Theatre program and other children from the local La Mirada community.
Biola’s Conservatory of Music annually produces an opera or musical. This year’s selection has made an unusual impact on the students and faculty by providing an educational experience for the participants relevant to the current cultural climate, according to professor and opera director, Richard Zeller.
“Street Scene incorporates several timely issues in its dramatic progression: racial tensions, immigrants looking for a new life, questions of poverty and social justice, and domestic issues, including infidelity and violence,” said Zeller.
When the musical premiered, it won the Tony award for the best original score. Sophomore Laurel Coddington who plays the part of Olga, a Swedish immigrant, shared her experience of preparing for the opera.
“I am so thankful that Professor Zeller picked this opera, because it gives us — both students and audience members — the opportunity to understand and empathize not only with the characters on stage, but the people in our country who are experiencing judgment, marginalization, and political conflict,” said Coddington.
Though the opera opened in 1947, many of the story elements are particularly poignant in light of current events. According to Zeller, students are interacting with those elements in a unique way by entering the stories of a diverse group of men and women facing timeless challenges.
“Kurt Weill's score consistently pulls at the heartstrings and though it is set in the ‘40s, the story is relevant today, particularly concerning the tension between social classes and how God wants us to treat our families and neighbors,” said freshman music performance major and ensemble member, Sarah Ritter.
For those new to the world of opera, Street Scene is said to be a perfect introduction. The script is in English, and the music borrows from jazz, musical theatre, and blues as well as traditional European opera.
“I have been so thrilled to work on this piece with the students,” said Zeller. “Street Scene is truly a unique hybrid — a play, an opera, and a musical all rolled into one, and it has been a joy exploring this creative medium with our Biola students. They have worked tirelessly to prepare this, and I’m sure you will see the results of their hard work and dedication. It is a very thought provoking piece — it is not only entertaining, but it holds a mirror up to us and our society. It is truly a piece that is not to be missed!
Street Scene will run February 10-12 and 17-19, with 7:30 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday, and a 3:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Press passes are available for Friday’s show.
Written by Jessica Stein, Student Music Ambassador. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne, manager of media relations, at (562) 777-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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