News

New Production of “The Cradle Will Rock” Makes Its Own Headlines

Opera Saratoga’s new production of Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock opened 9 July, and has quickly garnered attention for the work’s enduring relevance 80 years after its legendary premiere. In the New York Times, Joshua Barone discusses the work’s timelessness in “a year when political messages onstage are under acute scrutiny, and when the show’s themes are as present in the news as ever. A case about unions’ rights has once again arrived at the Supreme Court. The latest woes of a Pennsylvania steel town were recently on the front page of The New York Times. ‘Cradle’ even has a song about fake news.”

Read more:
Philadelphia Inquirer: Philly Firebrand Who Mentored Bernstein is Back in the Spotlight, Big-time
Conductor John Mauceri on Blitzstein’s legacy: Putting the Baby Back in the Cradle
La Scena Musicale: At Opera Saratoga, New Hands Rock Blitzstein’s Cradle
Albany Times Union: Opera Saratoga Performance a Moment in History & Review
Interview with director Lawrence Edelson and John Mauceri on WMHT Radio
Performance preview by Daron Hagen​

And this week, Opera Saratoga announced plans for a commercial recording, currently in the works! Stay tuned for more information.

Historical marker installed at 419 Pine Street, Philadelphia

Blitzstein Birthplace Historical Marker Unveiled

A ceremony on June 12 commemorated the unveiling of the new historical marker installed at the site of Marc Blitzstein’s birthplace, 419 Pine Street, Philadelphia. A small crowd of thirty or so Blitzstein devotees gathered on the tree-lined street in the historic Society Hill neighborhood to witness the unveiling. Local historians and Blitzstein experts shared remarks about Blitzstein’s connection to Philadelphia, his musical influence, and social and political legacy.

Further resources

Recap of the unveiling from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Jewish Exponent

Video highlights of the ceremony from ABC News 6

Remarks from Elizabeth Blaufox, Associate Director of Programs and Promotion for the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music

 

Blitzstein and the cast of "The Cradle Will Rock" in rehearsal, 1937

Opera Saratoga Resurrects the Original “The Cradle Will Rock”

16 June will mark the 80th anniversary of the infamous premiere of The Cradle Will Rock—the night the Federal Theatre Project locked the cast and crew out of the Maxine Elliot’s Theater, forcing them to scramble to find a new venue for the opening night of Blitzstein’s highly anticipated agitprop musical. Undeterred, the cast marched up Broadway to the Venice Theater, where Blitzstein performed the score from the piano onstage and the actors sang and spoke their parts from the audience.

While it has become nearly impossible in the intervening years to separate the spectacle of that first performance from the notoriety of the show itself, Cradle has remained a repertoire staple, though almost exclusively performed in a pared-down, piano-only version. However, that is about to change:  This summer, Opera Saratoga in upstate New York offers theater-goers a rare opportunity to hear The Cradle Will Rock as Blitzstein intended, in a fully staged production with his original orchestration. Lawrence Edelson directs this new production, which takes the stage for four performances 9–16 July, conducted by noted Blitzstein expert John Mauceri. The cast features three past prizewinners of the Lotte Lenya Competition (a program of the Kurt Weill Foundation): Ginger Costa-Jackson (2013 Lys Symonette Award) as Moll, Justin Hopkins (2012 2nd Prize) as Reverend Salvation, and Lisa Marie Rogali (2017 Special Award) in the ensemble.  This will be the first time the original orchestration has been heard since the New York City Opera production in 1960.

Other Events

Additionally, Opera Saratoga offers several ancillary events to enhance audience members’ knowledge of Blitzstein’s music. On 16 June, the evening of the 80th anniversary of the world premiere, OS presents Marc Blitzstein – A Life in Song, curated and hosted by Hopkins. The program will include excerpts from Blitzstein’s theatrical and operatic works as well as lesser-known songs. Another song evening, Broadway in the 1930s on 14 July, will feature songs by Blitzstein and Weill, along with the usual suspects, Gershwin, Porter, and Rodgers and Hart.

Further Resources

Find more information and tickets on the Opera Saratoga website.

Listen to an interview with director Lawrence Edelson and conductor John Mauceri on WMHT radio.

New Historical Marker to Commemorate Blitzstein’s Birthplace

Thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, in partnership with the National Museum of American Jewish History, Curtis Institute of Music (Blitzstein’s alma mater), and a couple of dedicated Blitzstein fans, a new historical marker is to be installed at the site of Blitzstein’s birthplace, 419 Pine Street, Philadelphia. The marker will be installed on 12 June, four days ahead of the 80th anniversary of the premiere of The Cradle Will Rock. The installation ceremony, which begins at 11:00 am at the site, will feature Blitzstein experts and scholars speaking on various topics including his musical legacy, work as an activist, and his connection to Philadelphia. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

That evening, a reading of the play “It’s All True” which recounts the creation of Cradle, by Jason Sherman, will take place at 7:00 pm at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Additional information and tickets available here.

Blitzstein at Tanglewood, 1946

“The Cradle That Rocked” Radio Documentary Now Airing in the US

Guy Livingston‘s 4-part radio documentary series on the life and work of Marc Blitzstein is now airing on radio stations around the United States, via the WFMT Radio Network. The series had its American broadcast premiere on Illinois’ WILL radio on March 5. Episodes three and four can be heard Sunday March 19 and 26, respectively, at 8:00 pm (CST). The program will air on other stations around the country through out the year, so be sure to your check your local public radio station’s listings for air dates. Additionally, all four episodes are available to download as podcasts via iTunes, or listen online anytime.

Previously Unknown Blitzstein Manuscript Comes to Light

A previously unknown manuscript piano score for Blitzstein’s early ballet Cain surfaced this summer. The owner donated the score to the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in October 2016. The 115-page manuscript in red and black ink post-dates the full score, currently held in the Blitzstein papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, whose holdings also contain another holograph piano vocal score.

Jehovah addresses Cain.

Composed in 1930 for a competition sponsored by the League of Composers, Cain retells the biblical story of Cain and Abel and the first murder. Heavy in allegorical implication, Blitzstein wrote in his preface to the synopsis, “Cain is a tragic ballet. Its philosophy is that we are all killers, and that murder is our heritage.” The work is structured in twelve sections divided into two parts separated by an interlude and runs approximately 30 minutes in duration. The ballet requires twelve solo dancers, a company, and one singer – a baritone representing the voice of Jehovah, heard only through an amplifier from off-stage (the vocal part is notated in red in Blitzstein’s piano score; see accompanying image). As usual with Blitzstein, the scoring is lavish: sixteen winds, fourteen brass, two percussion players, piano, and strings. Blitzstein began a version for smaller orchestra; that unfinished score is also held in Wisconsin. Both piano manuscripts bear Blitzstein’s notes on a concert suite derived from the work, but the movements and ordering differ slightly.

Detail of Blitzstein’s notes for a suite.

Blitzstein dedicated the work to his future wife, Eva Goldbeck, and in a letter to his sister, Jo, wrote of his progress on the piece, “It will be a wow; or at any rate the work and love going into it deserve a wow.” Upon completion, he wrote again to Jo, describing it as “the best thing I have written in my career.” Despite such high expectation by the composer and the admiration of several of his colleagues, including Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and interest from Stokowski, the work never received a complete public performance in Blitzstein’s lifetime.

Little is known of the score’s provenance. The donor acquired it in the 1950s from an unknown estate as part of a larger lot of published and manuscript music. The score then lay forgotten among the donor’s belongings until he rediscovered it this summer and contacted the Kurt Weill Foundation. The find presents a potentially interesting discovery in tracking this early composition which the promising young composer invested with such high hopes. The question as to why Blitzstein created two different piano vocal scores for the same, unpublished, unperformed work demands musicological inquiry; comparison of the two scores may yield new insights on Blitzstein’s technique and creative process. Inquiries are encouraged; the score currently resides at the Weill-Lenya Research Center at the Foundation offices in New York City (wlrc@kwf.org).

Blitzstein at the BBC, 1943
Blitzstein at the BBC, 1943

The Cradle that Rocked: Blitzstein Radio Documentary Airs Friday

Guy Livingston’s four-part radio documentary on the life and works of Marc Blitzstein, The Cradle That Rocked: Rediscovering Marc Blitzstein, airs this month as part of his American Highways program. The series will air on Fridays on Concert Zender Radio, beginning October 14 at 18h00 Central European Time (12:00 noon EST), and be made available as podcasts via iTunes after airing. Broadcasts on the WFMT network in the U.S. will follow.

The program will survey Blitzstein’s life and work, with episodes on The Cradle Will Rock, Regina, his adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, and his unfinished opera Sacco and Vanzetti. Highlights include historical recordings of Blitzstein and his contemporaries — including Paul Robeson performing and Leonard Bernstein in conversation with Studs Terkel — and interviews with such experts as Jamie Bernstein, Sarah Fishko, conductor John Mauceri, and composer William Bolcom.

Here’s the teaser from American Highways:
“This is the story of a great musician who embraced all the colorfulness of American life. Composer Marc Blitzstein has been largely forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political musical, The Cradle Will Rock. In the 1940s he was famous again for his Airborne Symphony, written in London during the war. And in the 1950s he made headlines once more, this time for his brilliantly funny and sarcastic adaptation of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. And yet, he is virtually unknown today. Jewish, gay, and a stubborn political activist, he was on the margins of the arts world in his lifetime. Although championed by Leonard Bernstein, he had trouble getting his career off the ground, and many of his musicals failed after a few performances. And his death was so tragic that it haunted his legacy for decades. This radio feature aims to celebrate his life with humor, storytelling, and vintage audio, as a new generation discovers his music. Join pianist Guy Livingston for four feature-length episodes, as he recounts the astonishing musical adventures of an American original, Marc Blitzstein.”

Find more information and where to listen here.

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Kurt Weill Foundation Invites Grant Applications for Blitzstein-related Projects

Planning a performance of or a project relating to Blitzstein’s music next year? You may be eligible to apply for funding from the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.

The Kurt Weill Foundation is dedicated to promoting understanding of Weill’s life and works and preserving the legacies of Weill and Lenya. In 2012, KWF was gifted a 50% share of the Marc Blitzstein estate, and in 2013, projects and performances of Blitzstein’s work became eligible under the grant program. Recent projects to receive grants include Curious Flights’ performance of Airborne Symphony, Bronx Opera‘s and Maryland Opera Studio‘s productions of Regina, The Orchestra Now‘s November 6 performance of Orchestra Variations, and the forthcoming radio documentary on Blitzstein’s life and work by radio host Guy Livingston.

Applications are now being accepted for performances and initiatives occurring between 1 January 2017 and 1 July 2018. Funding is awarded in the following categories:

  • Professional Performance
  • College/University Performance
  • Media
  • Scholarly Symposia/Conferences; Educational Outreach; Community Engagement
  • Kurt Weill Mentors
  • Kurt Weill Dissertation Fellowship
  • Publication Assistance
  • Research and Travel

All application materials must be received by 1 November 2016 to be considered. Complete information may be found at www.kwf.org/pages/grant-program.html or email Brady Sansone, Director of Programs and Business Affairs, bsansone@kwf.org.

Blitzstein and the cast of "The Cradle Will Rock", 1937

2016-17 Season Performance Preview

The 2016/17 season offers performances of both well-known and rarely-heard works by Blitzstein, from the purely orchestral to the profoundly political, and all that lies between.

  • The Orchestra Now performs Orchestra Variations

The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a program of Bard College, performs Orchestra Variations at New York City’s Rose Theater, 6 November, conducted by Leon Botstein.

Written in 1934 and largely inspired by Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, Orchestra Variations consists of a theme and twenty variations. Despite initial interest from conductor Leopold Stokowski, the work was never performed during Blitzstein’s lifetime. It eventually premiered in 1988 at Carnegie Hall on a concert by the American Composers Orchestra with conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

TŌN performs this rarely-heard piece alongside better-known works by Blitzstein’s contemporaries and close friends, Leonard Bernstein (Jeremiah Symphony) and Copland (Statements for Orchestra and Appalachian Spring Suite).

  • Radio Documentary on WFMT

Radio host Guy Livingston will release a four-part Podcast about Blitzstein’s life and music as part of his American Highways series. Each episode explores a particular work or period in Blitzstein’s life, including The Cradle Will Rock, Regina, Airborne Symphony and his friendship with Bernstein, and his unfinished opera, Sacco and Vanzetti, a project steeped in political controversy and aborted by his tragic and untimely death. The radio-documentary will be broadcast on ConcertZender Radio in the Netherlands and distributed on the WFMT radio network in the US in October. Listen to a preview of the full documentary, here.

  • The Cradle Will Rock and a Year of Politics

Even more prescient during this election year, Blitzstein’s attack on the plutocracy, The Cradle Will Rock, will be seen in several productions, including: Kent State University, 21 & 25 September; Cast Aside Productions (Portland, ME), 14-23 October; Boston University, 13-18 December; Connecticut College, 4-5 March; Ithaca College, 1-8 April. These productions, all with piano-only accompaniment, build up to the major Blitzstein event of the season next summer, when Opera Saratoga presents the work as it was originally intended – fully staged, with the original orchestration. Opera Saratoga Artistic director Lawrence Edelson directs, with John Mauceri conducting, 9-16 July, 2017.

Visit the performance calendar for more information and a complete listing of Blitzstein performances coming up this year.

Inaugural Marc Blitzstein Award Granted at 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition

The 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition, sponsored annually by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, featured a new award honoring the legacy of Marc Blitzstein. The award recognizes an outstanding performance of a selection from a “Golden Age” musical. The inaugural award went to bass-baritone Bradley Smoak of Cary, NC, for his performance of “Pass the Football” from Wonderful Town. Smoak, whose career to this point has primarily been in the world of opera, exhibited his crossover appeal with what the judges described as a “spectacular performance” of this classic Bernstein/Comden and Green number.

The Lenya Competition, founded 1998 in honor of singer/actress (and wife of Kurt Weill) Lotte Lenya, recognizes talented young singer/actors who are dramatically and musically convincing in repertoire ranging from opera/operetta to contemporary Broadway scores, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. The addition of the Marc Blitzstein award to the competition further highlights the artistic connection between Weill, Lenya and Blitzstein and their shared aesthetic philosophies.

Further Resources
About the Lotte Lenya Competition.
Read the complete press release.
Watch Bradley Smoak’s performance.