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Friday, June 8, 2018

A Varna Bulgaria STREET SCENE!

I've been in Varna, Bulgaria now for 20 days. Wow. It's been an amazing three weeks and time has certainly flown by, like the Black Sea waves crashing onto the fantastic beaches just minutes from my hotel room.

What brings me to Varna? Why, the Bulgarian premiere of Kurt Weill's Street Scene. Shocking to think that it's never been done in this country, given that it premiered on Broadway in 1947, but when one gets to know the piece it's understandable. It's the perfect example of a hybrid piece of theatre: neither a musical, as it takes operatic voices to handle the four major leads, nor an opera (a few too many big music theatre dance numbers). For years, I've used it as my answer to the endless question, "What's the difference between a musical and an opera?" My answer: "There's no tap dancing in opera. That's why Street Scene is more a musical."

However, after working on this piece here, I have to modify my thoughts. Street Scene, even though it won a Tony Award for Best Original Score and had a cast of primarily Broadway actors in it, is more a slightly-flawed opera than a pure piece of musical theatre.

Why the 'slightly-flawed' description? For me, the show doesn't know what it is. For sure, it was one of the great first experiments combining the opera/musical worlds that continued on through Blitzstein (Regina in 1948), Bernstein (West Side Story, Trouble in Tahiti), Menotti (The Telephone, The Medium, The Consul), and even into today with some of the recent Heggie and Guettel works.

Is Street Scene, at its core, the traumatic story of a jealous husband murdering his wife? Is it a look into post WW2 New York City, foreshadowing the Red Scare and the anti-immigrant feelings that festered there? Is it a light-hearted look at the milieu of immigrants (The Ice Cream Sextet, for instance) or is it a tragic romance between a young, smart New York Jew (Sam Kaplan) and his I-wanna-leave-NY girlfriend destroyed by her parent's dysfunctional marriage (Rose Maurrant)? In between these stories there is a tapestry of amazing Broadway songs ("Wouldn't ya like to be on Broadway?" and "Moon-faced, Starry-eyed"), massive operatic arias (an aria for Trumpsters: "Let Things Be Like They Always Was" and the poetic "Somehow I Never Could Believe"), with classic songs "Lonely House" and "What Good Would the Moon Be?" all thrown in together.

Curiously, the first act is a wee bit too long, but contains ALL of the great songs, arias, and dances. The second act, for me, is where the piece unravels a bit. The libretto forces too many people together to precede the jealous double homicide, and then can't come up with enough emotional - or logical - reasons to make sense of Rose's decision to leave the city and strike out on her own (abandoning her younger brother Willy to a life without a mother, father, or sister btw!) With that said, it all hangs together just enough to make a very moving and wonderful evening in the theatre!

People sometimes think I get too judgemental about music, opera, and composers. I think it's important to be objective about the operas I'm working on so that I can see them clearly. The minute I get into a love affair with a piece (like Nozze or Bohème), it can be dangerous for me as the stage director or conductor. There are very few perfect shows, but tons of truly excellent ones that give so much to audiences, performers, and to the history of entertainment. Street Scene is one of those amazing pieces, with an imaginative premise -- putting an entire show onto a New York City street, coupled with Weill's musical genius and theatrical chops that makes one understand why it stands the test of time.

I'm hoping that the Bulgarian audiences will enjoy it here in their delightful city situated right on the Cherno More (Black Sea).

I've had some time to myself here and have gotten to know a small part of this large city. It sits on the East Coast of Bulgaria, almost directly north of Istanbul making this the furthest East I've ever been. The people are gracious and extremely polite, except when in line for gelato. There it is the aggressive customer that gets served first! And I have to put in a word for the Varna gelato -- it is AMAZING. Best gelato I've had anywhere. A few pics of my sight-seeing around the city:

There's a lot of fish, not surprisingly, on the menus here and there are these cute little sardine-type fish that get brought in daily from the Black Sea called SKAG. They fry them up whole and are delicious - heads, spines and all! In addition, I've found excellent Turkish grills, a cool sushi place right on the beach (yes, sushi here is quite good), in addition to the Bodega where most of us eat our lunch (it's one of those Argentinian-type meat places where they bring you the cuts right on the spit).

The fish and the Bodega:

All of this food and drink comes incredibly cheap. The Bulgarian currency, the lev, is not doing well against the dollar or Euro, so even though a whole fish dinner might be priced at 15lev, that makes it like $11 U.S. Therefore, if you're looking for a cheap European getaway with beaches and TONS of hot sun, good food, low crime, and lots to see and do, head to Varna!

My one negative has been my health. It's hot and humid here, and we rehearse in an un-airconditioned space where the wafting cigarette smoke (it seems all Bulgarians smoke) makes it into the second story windows. One morning, after working a bit of a dance number, I got dizzy and then dizzier, and then came full on vertigo. I've never experience that and never want to again. My colleagues thought it was low blood sugar or a blood pressure problem. I thought I was having a stroke or heart attack (I was white as a sheet and sweating profusely). Needless to say, I got back to the hotel and AC, they called a doctor, and I had an injection of something right there in my hotel room. I will tell the whole tale in another blog, I promise (as well as the tale of how my lighting session happened in the theatre and the fun challenges of working in a language you do not speak!)

The 5:58am Varna sunrise over the Black Sea from my window:

Needless to say, I'm feeling much better but spend most of my time off in my cool hotel room looking out the window at the Black Sea. Our premiere is two nights away, and the U.S. Ambassador is coming to the show! I've got a formal kilt ready to go, as I have maintained my 2018 "Kilt Trip" the whole time I've been in Bulgaria. Gotta admit, it's been tough to keep wearing the kilt here in the heat and humidity, as well as in a culture of machismo guys throwing lots of questioning looks.