PRODUCTION DETAILS

American Classics (2004)

Friday 9th July 2004 to Saturday 10th July 2004
Ware Drill Hall
Directed by Neil Bell

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Ware Operatic Society is always keen to explore new musical territory and this year our journey takes us to America. Those of you who came to last summer's "Freedom" concert enjoyed a range of musical styles and an exciting mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. lf you are expecting the same again you will not be disappointed.

Our programme acknowledges that there was an artistic and musical tradition in the North American continent before the first European settlers ever arrived. The two Native American pieces are typical of an art form inextricably linked to the close relationship between people and nature, the earth and all living on it being viewed as sacred.

The Native American tradition cannot be said to have had much influence on subsequent American music. lndeed it is only relatively recently that a native culture has been recognised at all. Far more influential has been the music of another ethnic minority, the Afro-Americans. Without this black music we would have had no jazz and therefore no popular music as we knew it throughout the 20th century and even the music of "serious" white American composers such as Copland and lves would have been completely different. Our most direct tribute to this tradition is the group of gospel choruses. lt was in gospel and spirituals that the black congregations in the southern states expressed their Christian faith.

Jerome Kern's "Show Boat" (1928) and George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" (1935) were both very successful - artistically and commercially - attempts to portray the lot of the southern blacks in the form of a stage show, without patronising those they depict. "Show Boat", with a whole string of hit songs such as "Ol' man river" and "After the ball was over", was described by its creator modestly as a musical play. "Porgy" on the other hand is a full-blown opera of a kind never before seen; a work of enormous emotional power. Gershwin insisted during his life and then in his will that the work should only be performed on stage by black singers. We hope he will forgive us for giving you this little taster without the benefit of a black cast.

Perhaps the most stereotypical American stage musical composer was Richard Rodgers, usually working with Oscar Hammerstein. We have chosen the most obviously American show, "Oklahoma" (1943), and can only give you a small sample of its wealth of good tunes. The success of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" (1957) has rather overshadowed his other numerous stage shows. We could not resist including some music from "West Side Story". After all, how could we do an American programme without singing "America"? We have however put in some numbers, well worth hearing, from "Candide", "On The Town " and "Wondertul Town".

All of the above is wrapped around by some popular classics. To start with, the old favourite "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and then, to conclude, a selection from some of the great popular composers of the thirties: George Gershwin (again), Fats Waller, Harold Arlen and Joe Garland a celebration of swing.