For thirty-five years I’ve maintained that the classic works of the American Musical Theater are fit to be in the repertoire of opera houses. In many ways they ARE our opera. Many were composed for “legit,” unamplified voices, with sizable choruses, orchestras and dancers.
Broadway can no longer afford to produce these works in their original form. Look at the current Porgy and Bess. It is so cut down, re-composed, and otherwise compromised it barely resembles itself. It is not a “revival,” rather an “adaptation.” Broadway’s most recent West Side Story revival played with a scant sixteen orchestra members, including three synthesizers. Two years ago we used an orchestra of seventy and a chorus of fifty-two in Porgy and Bess. It shook the rafters of the War Memorial Opera House. [Above: Laquita Mitchell as Bess in our 2009 production of Porgy and Bess at the War Memorial Opera House. Photo by Cory Weaver.]
What are the so-called “classic musicals”? I would include Show Boat, Carousel, West Side Story, South Pacific, Oklahoma, The Most Happy Fella, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music (for smaller theaters), and undoubtedly there are others.
Last weekend I attended the opening of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Show Boat. The audience cheered, and not one music critic took aim at the music or the story. For many years the Lyric was known as “La Scala West,” so pervasive was the Italian culture of the place. Show Boat at the Lyric? Thirty-five years ago who’da thunkit!
Click play to watch a short clip of Francesca Zambello's new production of Show Boat at Lyric Opera of Chicago below.