Opera and Broadway musicals share one very important trait: the power of singing. And while Broadway often adapts operas to their own aesthetic, some opera houses have taken existing, ambitious musicals and presented them as written. Here are seven Broadway titles that have been showcased through a classical lens at opera houses and companies around the world.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Stephen Sondheim tale of a murderous barber had its opera house debut in Houston before transferring to New York City Opera in 1984, while an English National Opera Production starring Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson ran at London Coliseum in 2014. (The two also headlined a New York Philharmonic production preserved by PBS' Live at Lincoln Center.) One of the most popular theatre-opera titles, Sweeney Todd has been produced everywhere from the the Finnish National Opera to the Western Australia Opera and Paris' Théâtre du Châtelet.
The Leonard Bernstein piece has gone through a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to stage productions. A version featuring a book by Lillian Hellman and Hugh Wheeler opened on Broadway in 1956, though ultimately ran for just two months.
Wheeler later restructured the book, and in 1982 Harold Prince directed the first of many productions of Candide by New York City Opera. Most recently, it was performed in 2017 by NYCO at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with Linda Lavin making her opera debut as the Old Woman and Jay Armstrong Johnson as the title character.
West Side Story
One of the most radical adaptations of the modern take on Romeo & Juliet took place at Salzburg Music Festival in 2016. Opera star Cecilia Bartoli, who starred in the production, devised the idea of having two Marias—an age-appropriate shadow Maria an older, singing Maria (Bartoli) reflecting on the events depicted in the musical.
A more traditional version of the show was mounted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago earlier this year. Meanwhile, the title is preparing to return to both Broadway (in a staging by Ivo van Hove) and the big screen (in a new film adaptation from Steven Spielberg).
A notable production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical took place at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2015. Steven Pasquale (The Bridges of Madison County) played Billy opposite Laura Osnes (Cinderella) as Julie. Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves portrayed Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler.
That latter role has become a tradition of sorts with many opera stars stepping into the role, even outside of their home turf. Stephanie Blythe and Renée Fleming both played Nettie Fowler, at New York Philharmonic in 2013 and on Broadway in 2018, respectively.
Porgy and Bess
An opera repertory staple, Porgy and Bess debuted on Broadway in 1935 but didn’t made its opera premiere until 1976 at Houston Grand Opera. The Metropolitan Opera is opening its 2019–2020 season with a new production—the first at the house in nearly three decades.
A Little Night Music
New York City Opera presented the musical in 1990 in a production directed by Scott Ellis. The staging, which was also preserved for Live at Lincoln Center, starred Sally Ann Howes as Desiree, George Lee Andrews as Frederik, Danielle Ferland as Frederika, and Regina Resnick as Madame Armfeldt.
Ellis re-mounted his Night Music in 2003, with a cast including Juliet Stevenson, Jeremy Irons, Anna Kendrick, and Claire Bloom. This revival also went to LA Opera.
Mounted in 2013 at the Kennedy Center Opera House and directed by Washington National Opera Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, the staging was notable for starting with more than 100 performers on stage. The production also included several songs often omitted from the piece, including “Till Good Luck Comes My Way” and “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Round.”
Andriana Chuchman starred as Magnolia, Alyson Cambridge as Julie, and Michael Todd Simpson as Gaylord Ravenal. Opera performers Morris Robinson sang the classic “Ol’ Man River” as Joe while Angela Renee Simpson portrayed Queenie.