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Stars, Gold, and Tin: Unearthing Kurt Weill

For this summer’s production of Lost in the Stars at The Glimmerglass Festival, director Tazewell Thompson and conductor John DeMain are including two songs that were written and orchestrated by Kurt Weill but were cut before the piece opened on Broadway. The performance of these songs is extremely rare; John Kumalo’s cynical ode to the new world order, “Little Tin God,” is almost always cut from the score, whereas the production number “Gold” has never before been performed. Thompson came upon the songs while wading through the vast archives of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York City and has decided to work them into the show. Glimmerglass’s co-production of Lost in the Stars with Cape Town Opera will be the first to stage both “Little Tin God” and “Gold”.

Both songs illustrate the disintegration of tradition and the corrupting power of greed that are catalytic forces in the tragedy of the opera.  “Little Tin God” is led by John Kumalo, Stephen Kumalo’s brother, who, in turning away from the greed of the church turns to the greed of enterprise. “We’ve come to a time in the age of our planet when the old faiths fail and the old gods fall,” John sings. In place of his brother’s faith in God, John worships “the little tin god on the shelf” where he keeps his money. Simple and jazzy, declaimed more than sung, this brief song is accompanied by a pervasive staccato ticking, Weill’s subtle nod to the phrase “time is money.” Conductor John DeMain points out that this “ticking time bomb” accompaniment is identical to that in “Four o’clock”, the agonizingly tense number sung by the chorus while Stephen Kumalo waits for the hour of his son’s execution.

For  DeMain, “Gold,” represents Absalom’s dream for a better life which leads him to accidentally murder Arthur Jarvis. Cut just before the sitzprobe because of the expense of having to hire a dancing chorus, “Gold” will will be sung in this production by Absalom’s friends as they try to convince him to burglarize Arthur Jarvis’ home. Anderson’s lyrics succinctly summarize some of the key themes of greed, sexuality and amorality that thrive in Shanty Town. “You get a few nuggets and put them in your stocking, and nothing you do is considered very shocking,” the women sing over the accelerating ostinato of the basses singing “Gold, gold! You get a little gold.” As always, Weill’s music does more than just add commentary or word-paint. The voices overlap and interrupt one another in sexually-charged chorale that builds to the release of tension into the dance break.

The final addition to the score is a reprise of the title song. “‘Lost in the Stars’ is the most popular song in the show, but we only hear it once,” says DeMain. The reprise straddles both fathers’ bleakest moments and connects them through their shared despair.  “Everyone in the show is lost in some way,” DeMain notes, “but there is a message of hope.”

Comments

  1. Jane Miller on said:

    Just saw Lost in the Stars today. It has the saddest ending of any opera I’ve ever seen! The two fathers in vigil over their lost sons just made me think of all the lost sons and daughters since 9/11/01 and much more tragic that just one or two main characters left dead at the end!
    Overall, I would have enjoyed supertitles for all the dialogue because I couldn’t follow it. The sung words in the supertitles were very welcome though the sung words were clearer to me than the spoken words so I missed much of the action.

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