Birmingham Conservatoire has pulled off an amazing achievement with this year’s major opera, Kurt Weill’s dusty, squalid Street Scene, a kind of EastEnders in downtown New York.
With so much talent available in the Conservatoire’s Department of Vocal and Operatic Studies the four-performance run was double-cast, and there were uniformly strong performances from a large corpus of singers on Thursday’s opening night.
The story is bleak: some wish to escape life in an over-crowded tenement (Colin Judges’ impressive set, Ben Kennedy’s equally impressive orchestra playing within its walls, characters emerging from various levels); others – immigrants to America – are happy to be there; idealism runs high among some of the residents.
And that is the context of a story which unfolds within 24 hours, observing the classical unities of time, place and action: Anna Maurant – Carrie-Ann Williams bringing such a well-drawn performance, her well-supported warm tones finding the point of each phrase – consoles herself for a life downtrodden by a bullying husband in an affair with the milkman. Her daughter Rose, glamorously yet touchingly played by Sophie Pullen, courted by the local young intellectual, is briefly tempted to allow herself to be set up in an uptown apartment by her leering boss. Nothing good comes about for either.
There were so many other praiseworthy portrayals in Michael Barry’s intricately detailed, tellingly choreographed production, but I just have to pick out Craig Jackson’s Lippo Fiorentino, a wonderful caricature of a mellifluous Italian tenor. And Finola McDaid, ever-present as an old-clothes merchant, acted as a disturbing mute chorus, nervously twitching and reacting as if personally lacerated by every turn of events.