OPERA director Stefan Janski brings his last full-length production as Head of Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music to the stage on December 2 (and five more performances – December 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12).
And it’s clear he’s going out on a high.
Stefan will have been with the RNCM for 30 years when his retirement date comes next summer. He’s directed over 40 complete shows there, and around 700 staged excerpts from the opera repertoire.
And his swan song is a Broadway musical from 1946 – Street Scene, by Kurt Weill – though Weill called it his ‘American opera’ and it’s now considered a classic like Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess.
Spectacular, it seems, is hardly going to be an adequate word for it. Stefan, renowned for his multiple casting and brilliantly organized crowd scenes in previous productions, says he has over 66 named roles in his version of the story (based on an Elmer Rice play) of 24 hours in summertime, in a crowded tenement block and the street outside, in the Big Apple.
And, true to RNCM tradition, many of those are double-cast. Oh, and there’s one dog in this cast, too: little Oscar, who is having his own training sessions, getting used to hearing big voices singing at close quarters …
“I’m using the whole of the undergraduate second year,” says Stefan. “Part of their training is in chorus singing, and some of them have cameo roles as well.”
The musical is set in a two-tier tenement block, with eight apartments opening on to the ‘street’ of the title. The orchestra pit, kindly vacated by conductor Clark Rundell and his happy band (who will be upstage, behind a gauze), becomes the basement storey, and the stage proper the upper one, so people in the front row of the audience are looking right into the action.
“This show has got everything,” Stefan says: “Emotional repression and tension, heat, sadness, the quest for true affection, the problems of immigrants, a love triangle, and tragedy and the blues. But optimism is what it’s really about. There are some stunning numbers.”
It’s being modernised to the extent of including boogie-woogie jive, rather than tap-dancing, in one number. There’s a violin lesson on stage, and an Ice Cream Sextet.
The RNCM team includes choreographer Bethan Rhys Wiliam, set and costume design by Kate Ford, and technical direction and lighting by Nick Ware.