The New York School of Opera

by Barry Drogin

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Kurt Weill can be said to have come to New York's musical world three times: first, when his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht inspired and influenced Marc Blitzstein, composer of "The Cradle Will Rock" and "Regina", to name his two best known works; second, when Weill himself arrived in New York and, after several works in exile with Brecht, continued with other collaborators to create Broadway shows, as well as "Street Scene" and "Lost in the Stars"; and third, when, after his death, Blitzstein convinced Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, to authorize and appear in his translation of "The Threepenny Opera", which ran for seven years at the Theatre de Lys, single-handedly creating the Off-Broadway movement and introducing a new singing style to the world.

These visitations have inspired what could be called a "New York School of Opera" that continues to this day. Leonard Bernstein, who staged "The Cradle Will Rock" while a student at Harvard, and became a close friend of Blitzstein's, went on to create his own "Trouble in Tahiti" and "Mass". The director of "Mass", Tom O'Horgan, who created legendary productions Off-Off Broadway, Off-Broadway and has been the only director to have three productions running simultaneously on Broadway, is now a composer and director of small-scale operas. Eric Salzman and Michael Sahl have, together and separately, created a significant body of work, including a series of radio operas, the best-selling "Tango Project" with accordionist William Schimmel and, coming full circle, an amazing recording of Weill songs with Teresa Stratas.

The work, career and life of Barry Drogin evidence conscious and mystical connections to this new art form and its creators. His dance-theatre work, "Typhoid Mary", is an homage to Weill, even including a Lenya-esque singer in German. He has lived for over a decade around the corner from the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel), and several of his works have been premiered at the nearby Greenwich House, original home of The New York Festival of Song, which premiered Bernstein's last work and has been instrumental in reviving Blitzstein's work. An excerpt from Drogin's "Alamo!" was first performed in Toronto at the Fourth International Meeting of Contemporary Music-Theatre and Opera on a program with Salzman's "The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz", which, by pure coincidence, is also a "found object" text piece. Also by coincidence, Sahl's most recent work, "John Grace Ranter", directed by O'Horgan, concerns the lunatic ravings of a mad preacher, as does "Alamo!". Drogin is currently at work on a companion piece to Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti," "This is Therapy?".

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007