Back in the day, along the Mississippi, there was nothing more exciting than a show boat caming to town.
This week, Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and guest host Rebecca Hass present the epic American masterpiece Show Boat from Chicago’s Lyric Opera.
The ground-breaking musical dealt with themes of racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love. Its songs are classics including “Old Man River” written specifically for Paul Robeson by Jerome Kern with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber's best-selling novel of the same name, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over a span of nearly fifty years, from 1880 to 1927.
It’s considered the first fully integrated American musical with Caucasian and African-American singers on stage at the same time.
This was Lyric Opera of Chicago’s first time presenting Show Boat. “It’s important that great opera companies such as Lyric produce a breadth of repertory that encompasses not only the great international masterpieces but also great works of our own country,” says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director. “One of the greatest works of musical theater that the U.S. has produced is Jerome Kern’s Show Boat. It reinvented the language of musical theater, making it serious, profound, emotionally intense, and not only tuneful but tremendously moving.”
You can read the full synopsis here.
Lyric Opera’s simplified version is:
The captain’s daughter, Magnolia Hawks has a fine life on the show boat, thanks to the affection of her friends – the stevedore Joe, the cook Queenie, and the acting company’s leading lady, Julie LaVerne. When Julie, a mulatto, and her husband Steve Baker, the company’s leading man, are threatened with arrest for miscegenation and leave the show boat, their roles are given to Magnolia and Gaylord Ravenal, a rakish gambler. After the two marry – despite Magnolia’s mother’s objections – and settle in Chicago, Ravenal’s luck runs out. Deeply ashamed, he leaves his wife and their daughter. When Julie, now singing at Chicago’s Trocadero, overhears Magnolia auditioning there, she purposely sacrifices her position so that it can be Magnolia’s. On New Year’s Eve at the Trocadero, Magnolia sings and becomes a star.
The opera is full of stomps and bangs as actors and singers move around the boat, the concert halls of Chicago and eventually spill onto the streets of New York.
This production saw the debut of many singers in leading roles.
Magnolia Hawks, soprano - Ashley Brown
Stevedore Joe, bass - Morris Robinson
Cook Queenie, soprano - Renee Simpson
The Leading Lady Julie Laverne, soprano - Alyson Cambridge
Her Husband, actor - James Farruggio
Gaylord Ravenal, baritone - Nathan Gunn
Lyric Opera also used two chorus groups, one Caucasian, one African-American.
Conductor John DeMain
You can hear Lyric Opera’s presentation of Show Boat on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on June 30 at 1 p.m. (2 AT, 2:30 NT).
on Jun 27, 2012