Lost in the Stars

Read Susan’s Review here:


On Wednesday night, February 10, members of our Live & About group attended the Dress Rehearsal of Washington National Opera’s production of Lost in the Stars, first produced in collaboration with Capetown, South Africa then to audiences who were moved to tears and then to cheers at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2012. Now WNO has reunited several members of the artistic team to remount the work at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington D.C.Lost in the Stars

There were some changes to this production from the original production launched n Broadway. A lot of the dialogue from the book by Maxwell Anderson was pared down, perhaps to show how music could effectively carry more of the story. Stephen Kumalo had a song restored, “The Little Tin God” and there is also the chorus song “Gold.” Most notably, the ending was changed by Director Tazewell Thompson, who brought back “Cry the Beloved Country” to end the piece.

I will return to the Eisenhower Theater to review the show on its official opening this Friday evening. In the meantime, I ruminate on a few things about this work and production and invite you to join me, either by responding to the questions directly or by sharing other impressions and ideas.

  • There are several music idioms and styles of singing in the show, what was the intention do you suppose and how did these different styles coalesce in the production?
  • Why does John Kumalo calls his brother Stephen, the parson, a “faker” in his adoptive faith? Do you think the creative team wanted the audience to consider this assessment seriously, and if not, why does Act I end with the song, “Lost in the Stars” and Act II bring in almost at once a song where Stephen calls out to the old African god Tixo?
  • What’s the role that Tenor and Chorus Leader Sean Pannikkar plays in this production and what about his singing, costume, staging, and gestures that support your ideas?
  • Why did Tazewell Thompson and South African Set designer Michael Mitchell create a corrugated metal box of a set, and how did it help tell the story?

1 comment on “Lost in the Stars”

  1. Maurice

    Americans tend to think of Kurt Weill as the writer of musicals – and when most people think musical they think musical comedy (Library of Congress still classifies all Broadway works as Musical Comedies – even Sweeney Todd.) The majority of the stage works Weill wrote when in Germany, he considered to be operas (at least 10 – but can be more depending on how you classify things). But his musical language often drew a great deal from popular music, particularly American, so we were fooled into thinking works like “Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny” were more musical than opera.

    When Weill can to the U.S. he wanted his shows to have a new sound, so Weill made a study of American popular and stage music. He absorbed a great deal but kept his own voice in the process. If we can trust how the works are described in the published scores – and I think we can – Weill classed three of his American works as operas and one as operetta. Only two works were classed as musical comedies, “Knickerbocker Holiday” and “One Touch of Venus.” Most often the term musical play was used. It can at times be difficult to distinguish between Musical Play and Musical Comedy, and the terms were sometimes used interchangeably. But in the 40s and 50s there were authors wanting to move away from the light subjects of the comedies of the 20s and 30s and aim for something deeper, sometimes tragic. Weill called “Lost in the Stars” a Musical Tragedy. Menotti called his Broadway hit “The Consul” a Music Drama. No one has ever considered the later to be a “musical,” it’s clearly an opera. But what about the Weill? The works he called operas are not that different in musical language. Weill’s America opera written two years earlier, “Street Scene,” is not so different from “Lost in the Stars” in the use of the voice and richness of the music. Does Weill use the different designations just because “Street Scene” tends to use recitative over dialogue? There are operas with dialogue, “Carmen” for one.

    I would like to see a production of the work as it was performed on Broadway. Perhaps I would believe the work to be a “musical,” but I doubt it. In the version we saw, with greatly reduced dialog, added music, and operatic voices, it certainly seemed an opera to me. Sondheim has said that Sweeney Todd is a “musical” when performed on Broadway or a similar venue but an opera when performed in an opera house. Meaning your expectation has something to do with how your mind/ear will classify it. I look forward to the day when, with perspective, we don’t worry about the classification and simply enjoy the work for what it is. It seems to me…


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