Viewpoint: Classic Broadway
The Châtelet's King and I, with Susan Graham, center, as Anna
© Marie-Noëlle Robert/Théâtre du Châtelet 2014
At the 2014 Tony Awards in June, one of the artists saluted in the "In Memoriam" segment — a tribute to Broadway professionals who had died during the preceding year — was opera star Regina Resnik, a 1988 Tony nominee for her performance as Fräulein Schneider in a revival of Cabaret. (It should be mentioned here that CBS, which broadcast the Tonys, chose not to show the "In Memoriam" on air, supposedly in the interest of saving time; the segment is available online.) Cabaret wasn't Resnik's only musical-theater role: her resumé also included a killer turn as Madame Armfeldt in the 1990 New York City Opera premiere of A Little Night Music — a stylish characterization of impressive authority and wit. Resnik seemed as comfortable delivering the zingers of Stephen Sondheim's Night Music score as she had singing the great roles of Strauss, Verdi and Wagner.
Resnik began her opera career in the 1940s, at a time when the American performers of her generation passed easily between engagements in what was regarded as "popular entertainment" — radio, recordings and musical theater — and the highbrow world of classical music and opera. Long before he was established as one of opera's great baritones, Cornell MacNeil was in the chorus of the original Broadway run of Where's Charley? in 1948. Adelaide Bishop, one of New York City Opera's most versatile lyric sopranos in the 1950s, sang small roles in Broadway runs of Blossom Time and The Girl from Nantucket while she was still in her teens; she was also Lucia in the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Britten's Rape of Lucretia, at Broadway's Ziegfeld Theatre. Other future opera stars in that Lucretia cast were Brenda Lewis, Giorgio Tozzi, Andrew Gainey and Patricia Neway.
Beginning in the 1960s, when Broadway began to rock (literally as well as figuratively), it seemed that musical theater and opera were hiring from different talent pools; artists who crossed over from one arena to another became harder to spot. That trend seems to be reversing as more "classical" presenters are offering their audiences classics that began life on Broadway, rather than in an opera house. Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music head the list of Sondheim works that have been presented by U.S. opera companies and orchestras; most of the cast lists for these have featured a comfortable mix of opera singers and musical-theater performers. This past season, Lyric Opera of Chicago's Sound of Music boasted Christine Brewer as the Mother Abbess; in June, Susan Graham took on the role of Mrs. Anna in The King and I at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. (Visit operanews.com to read our review.) The New York Philharmonic's 2013 presentation of Carousel gathered Met veterans Stephanie Blythe and Nathan Gunn alongside Broadway's Jason Danieley, John Cullum, Jessie Mueller and Kelli O'Hara. Next December, O'Hara — one of Broadway's most respected singing actresses — will make her Metropolitan Opera debut, as Valencienne in a new staging of The Merry Widow by Susan Stroman, another Broadway veteran whose work will be seen at the Met for the first time.
In 1998, Stroman choreographed a Royal National Theatre production of Oklahoma! that made a star of a young Australian actor named Hugh Jackman. One wonders whether Stroman and Jackman might ever work together again — and whether it might be in an opera house. Time will tell.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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