The Brooklyn Academy of Music is marking the centenary of composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) with a month-long tribute to his work, including a film festival, a star-studded gala and a six-performance run of the rarely- staged Weill opera, The Eternal Road ("Der Weg der Verheissung").
Weill, born in Germany, is best known for the dark, social musicals he created with playwright and director Bertolt Brecht, including Threepenny Opera (1928) and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929). Weill settled in the U.S. in 1935 after fleeing Nazi Germany. For Broadway, he composed such musicals as Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) and One Touch of Venus (1943).
Weill's The Eternal Road will be performed at the BAM Opera House on Feb. 28, 29 & March 1, 3, 4 & 5. Weill wrote the opera with Franz Werfel and director Max Reinhardt in 1934. The work is an epic retelling of the Jews' flight from persecution, as related in the Old Testament, and reflected Weill's recent departure from Germany. An English-language version bowed at the Manhattan Opera House on Jan. 7, 1937 and played 153 performances. It has rarely been staged since, largely because of the huge cast requirements.
The BAM staging, directed by Michael Heinicke and conducted by John Mauceri, features an international cast. The hundreds-strong chorus will be the largest ever assembled on the BAM Opera House stage. Not surprisingly, the show is a multi-national co-production, with Germany's Chemnitz Opera, Tel Aviv's New Israeli Opera and Poland's Opera Krakow also sharing production credit. The staging premiered at Chemnitz and will travel to Tel Aviv April 20-28 and Opera Krakow (dates TBA).
Performed in German with English subtitles, the BAM production uses a text adaptation by Gerhard Muller. German director Michael Heinicke is staging the piece, which is conducted by John Mauceri, best known for conducting cross-over showtune and symphonic disks. Press materials for the staging note that since The Eternal Road originally opened just one year before Kristallnacht, this production will have a more downbeat ending than the original. In the 1937 version, the Jews simly exit toward an eternal road; in the 2000 version, "soldiers burst into the synagogue, attempt to burn the Torah and kill a member of the congregation.
The Weill celebration commenced with a Feb. 10 gala celebration at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. Jerry Orbach played host to a eclectic guest list including Nanette Fabray, Jerry Hadley, Mark Linn Baker, Ann Magnuson, Billy Dee Williams and Samuel E. Wright. Also attending was Dick van Patten, who was in the original American cast of The Eternal Road.
For information on The Eternal Road at BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, call (718) 636-4182.
-- By Robert Simonson
and David Lefkowitz