Lost & Found

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh resurrects 'Lost in the Stars,' a rare and seldom-performed work by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.

When famed German composer Kurt Weill landed in the United States in 1935, he had been fleeing Nazi cruelty and oppression. As a Jew, he knew much about that, already targeted because of his “decadent” angular, snappy music underscoring Bertolt Brecht’s edgy, satirical polemics.

Nonetheless, Weill regularly found ways in America to make songs serve similar, rarely safe ideas, and, in so doing, going against the grain of most crowd-pleasing, profitable musicals of his time. 

“Throughout his life he chose to address issues of significance, of social, political and historical relevance,” says Jonathan Eaton, artistic director of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. “But he always tried to keep a human dimension.” And that is why Eaton decided to produce and stage Weill’s final work, Lost in the Stars, this month. It remains rarely seen despite a moving, important story and beautiful music.

The rarity is part of Weill’s history. He followed a difficult path in his 15 years in the United States, with only two of his Broadway productions becoming popular hits.  Lost in the Stars didn’t endure long, closing in nine months despite much critical praise by influential newspaper critics. Lost in the Stars, based on South African novelist Alan Paton’s much-acclaimed novel Cry, the Beloved Country, was Weill’s second collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Maxwell Anderson, a native of Atlantic, in Crawford County. (The other was Knickerbocker Holiday.)

Publicity calling Lost in the Stars “a musical tragedy” was not likely to guarantee major ticket sales in that pre-Stephen Sondheim period. The loaded subject was a heavy one for 1949. “It was difficult to explore race relations in America at that time in the kind of music theater Weill had chosen,” Eaton says. “He and Anderson may have been concerned about too much smoke obscuring the flame, so they chose to view America through the prism of South African history.
“Now, with apartheid more than 10 years behind us, it’s possible to see that this work is no longer about a very specific, historical place,” Eaton continues, feeling that he, his company and Pittsburgh audiences are ready for this tender, compassionate and moving drama.

Weill himself said, “We wanted to treat the race problem as part of the human problem. The tragedy…is the tragedy of all men, white or black, rich or poor, young or old.”

As for the glorious, compelling, sometimes even jazzy music, New York  Herald Tribune critic Howard Barnes called it “a soaring, beautifully integrated score” following the 1949 opening.

Eaton says the complex songs remain daunting, that they require good actors who can sing well. That is why he engaged Highland Park’s Eugene Perry and his twin brother, Herbert, to portray major roles: faith-doubting minister Stephen Kumalo and his soon-to-be executed son, Absalom.

Pittsburgh audiences no doubt are already familiar with their artistry from other Opera Theater productions. In this case, the men have a unique challenge: One twin must appear older than the other; on the other hand, their familial resemblance should provide credibility for both roles. The cast also features Cranberry’s Denise Sheffey Powell plus a number of performers in nonsinging acting roles, including the South Side’s Martin Giles.

The 13-piece orchestra, playing Weill’s own original orchestrations, will be conducted by Julius Rudel, New York City Opera’s music director for 22 years, whose extensive career before and since has established him as a major artist. In fact, he has made a specialty of performing Weill scores, including the only recording of Lost in the Stars since the original cast’s. Moreover, he collaborated with Eaton for the English-language world premiere here in 1999 of Weill’s Die Burgschaft (Eaton’s own translation) and of Der Jasager the same season.

Opera Theater’s production not only coincides with Black History Month but also is part of a series designed to connect with African-American audiences with productions such as Nathan Davis’ Just Above My Head and, more recently, Oscar Hammerstein’s reworking of Bizet into Carmen Jones.

Such projects testify to the enduring relevance and affinity for great music that characterize Opera Theater’s continuing commitment to rare and important works of art.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

The state's new interactive bike map displays the speed limit and traffic flow of state route bike paths.
In the Future: No Driver May Be No Problem for Uber

In the Future: No Driver May Be No Problem for Uber

Pittsburgh is the test track for the ride sharing company's self-driving vehicles.
A Greener Future for the Strip District

A Greener Future for the Strip District

Riverlife moves forward with their ongoing work to build Three Rivers Park, Pittsburgh’s interconnected system of riverfront parks, trails and public open spaces, in the Strip District.
Three Mayors and a PIO Walk into an Elevator…

Three Mayors and a PIO Walk into an Elevator…

Mayor Bill Peduto shares tweets after being stuck in a Westin Hotel elevator.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

The U.S. Open is returning to Oakmont — and unlike previous tournaments, this one could make the community a vital part of the action.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

The state's new interactive bike map displays the speed limit and traffic flow of state route bike paths.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Crosby’s Long-Awaited Signature has Pens Pondering The Possibilities

Crosby’s Long-Awaited Signature has Pens Pondering The Possibilities

For Sidney Crosby and for the Penguins, happy days are here again. But the emotion of the moment won’t mean much if Crosby and the Penguins aren’t able to build upon it as the series progresses.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Recycled Paper Never Looked So Good

Recycled Paper Never Looked So Good

Whether you’re looking for an original illustration, a cute note card to send a friend or a unique notebook to keep track of your thoughts, Little Alexander’s paper goods offer beautiful locally made options.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Angry Birds Movie Is Just a Total Mess

The Angry Birds Movie Is Just a Total Mess

Plus reviews of "The Nice Guys" and "Neighbors 2," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Pitt Adds New Major

Pitt Adds New Major

The environmental engineering major will be available in the 2016-17 academic year and aims to help students prepare for a changing job market.

Comments