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Psst: There’s Revolution in Steeltown in Opera Saratoga & Bridge Records’ “Cradle Will Rock”
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   

CD COVER
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The circumstances of the premiere of Marc Blitztein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” (1937) is the stuff of music theater legend—the company locked out of the Maxine Elliott theater, the orchestra and cast forbidden to perform, the trek by audience, singers, director Orson Welles, and producer John Houseman to the Venice theater, the score played on the piano by the composer, and the singers deciding to sing their parts from seats in the theater—but full performances and recordings are rare indeed. Bridge Records remedies this by releasing “Cradle’s” first complete recording with the 2017 Opera Saratoga cast and orchestra, under the baton of John Mauceri, a breathtaking, emotional and, alas, far too pertinent venture, in today’s political climate.
In Steeltown U.S.A., the downtrodden citizens rebel against the powerful establishment. The union organizers, facing stiff opposition, are pushed to push back against anti-union big business. It’s heartening to hear this uprising in progress. The memorable theme songs of the masses are “Nickel under Your Foot,” the poignant lament of Moll, poor victim of greed, walking the street because she can get just two days’ honest work a week, sung by mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson; the rousing title song, sung by Larry Foreman (Christopher Burchett), guilty of the dangerous crimes of making speeches and passing out leaflets, his anthem ultimately taken up by the company; and the intense ballad of “Joe Worker,” affectingly sung by Ella Hammer (Nina Spinner), sister of a suspected organizer, killed on the job. That’s the Revolution, baby!
The evil villain, the big boss, is Mr. Mister (lyric bass Matt Boehler, a familiar and favorite figure in music in New York City), whose power and corruption are literally making him ill. His wife, Mrs. Mister (mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock), who fancies herself a patron of the arts, helps him spread his poison. Junior Mister (Spencer Viator) and Sister Mister (Heather Jones) are their featherbrained offspring, with Junior somehow destined to become a journalist.
Enlisted in quashing the uprising are: the hypocritical Liberty Committee; religion, in the person of Reverend Salvation (fine bass-baritone Joshua Hopkins), pious and phony; the press, Editor Daily (Brian Wallin); the high-minded arts, violinist Yasha (John Tibbetts) and painter Dauber (Scott Purcell), fawning over the dopy Mrs. Mister; education—University President Prexie (Eric McConnell) and Professors Trixie (Michael Anderson), Mamie (Adam Bradley), and Scoot (Miles Herr); the law (Efrain Solis, Dylan Elza); and the medical profession (Jorgeandrés Camargo as Dr. Specialist)—all can be bought. Harry the Druggist (tenor Keith Jameson) and the Moll commiserate in a couple of duets. The machine has tried to enlist him as an informer against a foreigner (Michael Anderson as Mr. Polock) and his wife (Meghan Kasanders as Sadie Polock), who are very much in love—Harry resists, but the Polocks meet an unfortunate end—for which they themselves are blamed. Ironic strains of children’s songs, “Go in and out the Window” and “Rockabye Baby,” sound when Mr. Mister pressures, er, invites the professors to join his Liberty Committee.
In a perceptive program note, Mauceri writes, “Without a single updated text change, and maintaining the story in the late 1930s, we all knew this tale of nepotism, bribery, violence, prostitution on every level, fear of change, the manipulation of news, the suspicion of immigrants, and the buying and selling of the middle class were not things of the past. All we had to do was perform it as written.” “The Cradle Will Rock” is truly a work for our times.
A valuable postscript to the recording of the opera is Mark Blitzstein’s own 14-minute speech about his still relevant opus.


 

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