Rehearsals have now begun for Kurt Weill’s Street Scene!
After our recent promotional photoshoot*, we caught up with soprano Gillene Butterfield and tenor Alex Banfield, who will playing the roles of Rose Maurrant and Sam Kaplan in this ‘American opera’…
Tell us a little about your character.
Gillene: Rose Maurrant is a young woman living in New York in the 1940s. She lives in a claustrophobic tenement building with her parents and younger brother. The building is filled with nosey, loud, judgemental neighbours and everyone is literally on top of each other!
Much of Rose’s story is about her longing for happiness, love and escape, and wondering if she will ever find it. The violent event at the heart of the story changes both her life and the lives of those closest to her forever.
Alex: Sam is a young, intellectual Jewish guy who was born and raised in the East Side of Manhattan. He finds sanctuary in reading, loves music, poetry and nature and is studying to be a lawyer. This all contributes to his feelings of frustration and isolation among his working class neighbours in the house.
Sam is in love with Rose Maurrant. When he eventually reveals this to Rose, as well as his desire to leave everything behind and make a new life with her, she wants to escape with him, but unfortunately things do not work out this way…
What makes Street Scene special as a piece?
Gillene: I think it beautifully depicts the many stages of life and the roles we both have to, and choose to, assume. The children play games around the building – watching and learning from the adults. We see how it feels to be a troubled wife and husband, a new parent, a child ready to fly the nest… there are people in love, people in pain, living with regret, or living with hope. We see events unfold that move many of them to make life-changing choices.
Alex: Street Scene was so different to anything Broadway had ever seen before, in the way it merged together drama, music and dialogue. It was also a social critique of the time, about racial tensions and the way in which societal pressure upon an individual can influence their behaviour, for better or worse. This to me feels strikingly relevant today, especially so with the advent of social media serving as the pressure cooker, in place of the tenement block.
What makes Street Scene a great choice for a first opera?
Gillene: Street Scene is packed with an incredible array of characters (the cast list is huge!), so it will be busy, varied and colourful. It has everything you would want in a show about real life: tragedy, comedy and romance. The music is incredible, from elements of jazz, blues and music theatre to Puccini. There are song-and-dance numbers, intimate solos and even a song about ice cream!
Alex: Well, simply that the plot is powerfully moving and the music is sensational! Street Scene itself set the course for musical theatre as we know it, which makes it familiar to the modern ear.
Do you have a favourite moment?
Gillene: Rose’s first number ‘What Good Would the Moon Be‘ is a beautiful example of youthful hope. It takes me back to that feeling on the brink of adulthood – of not knowing what the future holds, but just feeling so sure that it could be wonderful and that it’s worth holding out for! It contrasts heartbreakingly with Rose’s feelings at the end of the piece and shows how quickly life can change – even in the space of a day.
Alex: One of my absolute favourite numbers is the musical theatre-and-dance number ‘Moon-faced, Starry-eyed‘, but generally speaking, you can’t miss the tangible feeling of New York at that time, which emanates from both the score and its diverse set of characters.
What are you most looking forward to about the rehearsal process?
Gillene: I’m most looking forward to seeing what magic everyone is going to bring to their characters! Street Scene is packed to bursting with amazing roles and Opera North’s cast of wonderful singer-actors are ready to bring them to life for you. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Alex: I was super excited to see the set and it did not disappoint (even though it might not be what you’d expect if you know the show), and secondly, the cast is so huge I can’t wait to see what each person brings to it!
*This photoshoot took place in the alley way behind Leeds Grand Theatre which is now under construction as part of our Music Works redevelopment to create a brand new atrium. It will look very different next time you see it!