WILTON – It is a weekday morning inside the Wilton Mall. Wedged between one shop that sports women’s summer fashions and another displaying torn men’s jeans, a series of piano rolls tumble into the hallway from behind the blackened windows of an abandoned retail space,
Inside the space where the piano melody flows, The Moll – portrayed by Ginger Costa-Jackson - and Bugs – played by Andy Papas - are rehearsing the opening scene of the controversial 1937 opera “The Cradle Will Rock.”
”I’d like to give you a hun-dred bucks, but I only got thir-tee cents,” Bugs proclaims in a speak-song voice, hoisting a cigar to his mouth beneath a brim-backwards baseball cap that rests atop his head.
“Make it a dollar,” sings The Moll, tugging at the fringes of her black shawl. There is no negotiating.
“That’s all I got. Thirty cents,” Bugs replies. Lawrence Edelson, the director, interrupts the scene.
“There needs to be more of a beat. There. Punctuation marks!” he says. A half-dozen or so others in the cavernous room fiddle with scripts, binders, the musical score. Rows of empty store shelves give off a yellow hue. A pair of benches sit in the middle of a floor spiked for blocking. Someone strikes the keys of the standup piano, and Bugs and The Moll begin again.
“That’s so much better,” Edelson says, finally pleased the scene is played to perfection. “Burning with tension!”
The show, “The Cradle Will Rock,” opens July 9 at the Spa Little Theater in the Saratoga Spa State Park. It is a piece that has historical implications.
“It’s remarkably timely considering it was written 80 years ago. It could have been written yesterday and you’d never know it,” says Edelson, matter-of-factly. “It speaks to contemporary audiences on its own terms in a vibrant way.”
Trained as a singer and having professionally performed as a dancer, this summer marks Edelson’s third as artistic and general director for Opera Saratoga. Edelson chooses the repertoire, puts all the production teams and the casting together, chooses the directors and conductors and casts all the singers. Opera Saratoga’s summer season – which opens this weekend - features performances of “Falstaff,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” – the latter which Edelson is personally directing and choreographing.
“It’s about a wealthy businessman who is buying his way up in society. He is buying off the church, he is buying off the newspaper, buying off the university and the hospital, buying off all these different parts of society for his own gain. At the same time, he’s fighting the unions. And when you look at the headlines today…”
Edelson resists the temptation that was engaged by his theatrical peers at The Public Theater in New York City, whose current staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” portrays a very modern-day character resembling Donald Trump.
“The main character, Mr. Mister, one could easily tie him into a Trumpian character. But, that’s not the approach I’m taking. My job as a director is to present the story and the music to the best of my abilities the way the authors intended it,” Edelson explains. As is, the piece set in Steeltown U.S.A. drew controversy all its own when it premiered in pre-World War II America when its pro-union plot was feared as being too radical.
“It was actually shut down by the government on its opening night in 1937. The government had locked up the theater with all the costumes and the orchestral parts which they couldn’t get out. Orson Welles was the original director and John Houseman the producer. They rented a piano and moved it north 20 blocks and put it on a stage,” Edelson said.
“In an incredibly ironic act, the actors’ union forbid the performers from performing onstage - in a show that was pro-union! So Blitzstein started to play the piece on the piano onstage, to sing through it himself. What was extraordinary was the members of the cast sitting in the audience rose up one-by-one and started to perform from their seats. It became one of the most legendary evenings in all of music theater history.”
Controversy aside, the artistic result is that the original orchestration created by Marc Blitzstein – a frequent resident of the Yaddo arts colony in Saratoga Springs – is often neglected and almost always presented with just a piano.
“It only been performed twice with Blitzstein’s original orchestration. It has been 57 years since this piece has been done anywhere in the world the way Blitzstein intended. It’s really going to be a historically significant event for Saratoga Springs,” Edelson said. “And I think this cast is quite extraordinary. I don’t know if the piece has ever been sung this well before, quite frankly. I think audiences are going to be electrified by what they hear onstage.”
“The Cradle Will Rock,” with music, book and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein will be staged 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 9, 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, 7:30 p.m. Thursday July 13 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 16.
“I don’t think about opera in a bubble. For me, opera is this amazing synthesis of the arts. as much theater as it is music and visual arts and dance, and for me that’s what makes opera exciting,” Edelson said. “We do one opera every year that is a masterpiece from the classical repertoire. This year that is ‘Falstaff’ – one of the greatest operas ever written. I think audiences whose tastes lean towards traditional opera are really going to love this but it’s also a great comic piece and a great introduction to opera. It’s one of the pieces you just laugh out loud at.” “Falstaff,” with music by Giuseppe Verdi and libretto by Arrigo Boito will be staged by Saratoga Opera on July 1, 6, 10 and 15.
“We’ve also been doing works that incorporate dance and movement – this being such a city that has an appreciation in dance. Last year we did the Philip Glass piece, ‘The Witches of Venice.’ This year we’ll be doing a piece by André Grétry, who was a Belgian composer. I chose it because it has dance and movement in it and it’s also a fairy tale which people know the story of. It’s a great introduction to opera for family audiences and a great way to introduce kids to opera. This particular production incorporates a lot of puppetry, which is a new element, something we haven’t done before.”
“Beauty and The Beast,” with music by André Grétry, libretto by Jean Francois Marmontel, will be staged July 2, 8 and 14. For tickets and more information of Opera Saratoga’s summer festival season, , go to: http://www.operasaratoga.org/.