This is the filming of the great, sad Kurt Weill/Elmer Rice/Langston Hughes popular opera presented by the Houston Grand Opera, conducted by James Holmes. I'm not sure "popular opera" is the right term; maybe there isn't one. It's based on Rice's play "Street Scene," a look at the lives of neighbors living in a New York tenement sometime around the late 1920's or early 1930's. It was unsuccessful when it opened on Broadway and is rarely mounted. The Houston Grand Opera revived it as a full-throated opera with big voices, and the score is sung with power and appeal.
Street Scene tells the story of the Maurrant family and of the relationships and gossip and stair-step lives of their neighbors living in the tenement. Anna Maurrant is a tired woman who sees her life slowing slipping away into drudgery. Her husband loves her in his own inarticulate fashion, but is suspicious, silent, unable to show much affection or love. They have two children, a boy still in school and Rose, a young woman who dreams of a better life and is making plans to achieve it. She is beginning to fall in love with Sam Kaplan, a young student who lives nearby. Kaplan is something of a quiet misfit who reads and wants to move away from the tenements with Rose and become a lawyer. After the characters are established, the story line moves inexorably into tragedy. Mrs. Maurrant, desperate for love and tenderness, begins seeing another man. Her husband discovers them, and kills them both. He is arrested and taken away. Rose decides she must give up her dreams and stay to take care of her brother. Sam knows he must leave or he will lose everything he values. The neighbors gradually settle back down to their lives of gossip.
Weill and Hughes, in my opinion, created one of the great scores. It ranges from songs of hope to songs of loneliness, from jazz to jitterbug, from children's songs to songs of such sadness they'll make you cry. "Lonely House," Sam Kaplan's cry of despair, is heart wrenching. Other songs that I think are extraordinary are "I Loved Her, Too," "What Good Would the Moon Be?," "Somehow I Never Could Believe," "When a Woman Has a Baby."
The presentation is fairly static, a filming of the stage action with some cutting to close-ups and medium shots. The DVD picture looks very good, however, and so is the sound.