Langston Hughes

Broadway, blues & opera intersect in colorful “Street Scene” at BGSU

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The brownstone at 346 on an anonymous street on New York’s Lower East Side is the home to seven families of motley ethnicity. “Street Scene,” the opera they inhabit, brings together music of the Old World and New to express their joys, hopes, passion, fears, and desperation. The 1946 collaboration of composer Kurt Weill, poet Langston Hughes, and playwright Elmer Rice opens Friday at 8 p.m. in the Donnell Theatre in the Wolfe Center for the Arts on the Bowling Green State University campus. A matinee performance will be presented Sunday at 3 p.m. Advance tickets are $15; all tickets are $20 the day of the performance. Call 419-372-8171, go online at bgsu.edu/arts, or visit the box office in the Wolfe Center to purchase tickets. “Street Scene,” said Kevin Bylsma, coordinator of opera at BGSU, “is a great amalgamation of operetta, opera and musical theater that tells a poignant story that resonates as much today as it did in 1946.” The tale of immigrants tossed together in a strange, sometimes hostile place had such resonance that guest director Nicholas Wuehrmann considered setting this version in contemporary times. There’s the “universality of the themes of love, relationships, the struggle of the immigrant population, prejudice, just every day life and the struggle to get along, and dreaming and hoping,” the director said. “It reminds me of the people I know in New York.” He passed on the idea, trusting the audience will relate regardless of the time period. All the characters have their own struggles, and the show highlights them in song. In the opening we hear the janitor (Brett Pond) and Anna Maurrant (Alicia Yantosca) sing of their dreams. His are expressed in a grinding blues number “I Got a Marble and a Star,” sung as residents ask him about repairs that need to be made. Anna expresses her desires in a passionate aria in which she declares that “I will always believe there will be a brighter day.” For her that “brighter day” may include the milkman Sam Sankey (Jarrod Davis) with whom she’s carrying on a not-so-secret affair. The neighbor ladies – Emma Jones (Hillary LaBonte), Greta Fiorentino (Elizabeth Vogel), and Olga Olsen (Betsy Bellavia) – gossip about it in the bouncing “Get a Load of That.” All…


David Bixler’s Hughes Project started as a gift from his mother

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News David Bixler can thank his mother for inspiring his Hughes Project. His mother, a retired English teacher, sent him a copy of Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.” “Well, son, I’ll tell you,” the poem begins. “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” That poem inspired Bixler. He responded as a jazz saxophonist and composer would: by writing a song. From that first piece has grown into The Hughes Project, seven pieces with more to come for a nine-piece ensemble. All based on poems written by the man of letters considered a leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. Last week Bixler gave a lecture about the project, accompanying his remarks with performances of two pieces from the project. Later that night he presented a recital featuring the seven movements he’s completed so far. He’d long been interested in writing music inspired by Hughes that blended a jazz quintet and a string quartet. He finally carved out the time to write the piece last year. He was on leave from his position as director of jazz studies at Bowling Green State University, and his family had relocated back to New York City. They were living, he quipped, in “the squalor” of renovating their new home. He started writing in June, 2015 and first heard what he’d written this May. Bixler, who received a grant from the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at BGSU, brought in musicians from New York City for the performance. They included trumpeter Russell Johnson, who grew up in the same Wisconsin town as Bixler and has his mother as a teacher. The jazz contingent also featured Jon Cowherd, piano, Gregg August, bass, and Fabio Rojas, drums. The quintet was joined by the Semiosis Quartet – Natalie Calma and Nicole Parks, violin, Oliver Chang, viola, and Kett Lee, cello. In composing the pieces, Bixler made some key decisions up front. As with the initial “Mother and Son,” he did not set the poem to music to be sung nor did he have a narrator reading against a musical backdrop. Also, though Hughes was often called a “jazz poet,” and he wrote many works inspired by the music of African-Americans, Bixler avoided those. Instead, he said, he focused “on…