Theater 30.3 (2000) 1-3
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First things first: my deepest thanks to Tom Sellar for guest-editing this issue--for the original and enlightening essays and libretti he so painstakingly gathered, for the new possibilities they point to, and for giving me an excuse to listen to all those wonderful recordings.
If life and editorial schedules were logical, this issue would have preceded the one on New Music-Theater, instead of coming right after. Weill's work is crucial to understanding how a serious composer can collaborate with equally serious playwrights, without compromising the forms or ideas of either the music or the text--indeed increasing the power of both--and by doing so (believe it, skeptical philistines!) make large audiences deliriously happy for many years in many countries.
Not, of course, without problems: Weill's work is also crucial to understanding the difficult and sometimes finally untenable relationships of artists whose aesthetic goals, political ideas, and sense of their audience are at odds. I think (many in these pages disagree) his life is profoundly instructive when we try to understand compromise, even or especially when the compromises themselves aren't just selling out, but the result of a genuine and heartfelt evolution from one attitude toward music-theater art to another, from avant-garde leftism to populist liberalism. These aren't new questions, though every generation has new answers to them.
As this issue shows, Weill also is now being considered in the light of more recent concerns, those of identity politics and multiculturalism: Who was he as a Jew? Who was he as a German who became an American? How was his work affected by being who he was in those times? Such analyses enrich what we know about Weill; they also help us think about new and future music-theater. [End Page 1]
Long ago--it was 1976, in Avignon, at one of the first performances of Einstein on the Beach--Philip Glass said to me in an off-the-cuff moment, "Bob Wilson and I are going to be the Brecht and Weill of our generation." That didn't happen. And couldn't, given where music, theater, culture, and history were going, and both artists' apolitical and nonpopulist leanings. Yet reading about Weill, listening again to his music, it's clear why Glass would want such a connection, however fleetingly, and why Weill was an inspiration as well as a delight twenty-five years ago and remains both today.
All the Weill
This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Kurt Weill's birth, and the centenary has inspired significant revivals, concerts, cabarets, galas, symposia, and publications around the world. We decided to devote a special issue to Weill not just to join the party but because the moment is right for a fresh look at his stage works. These operas and dramas still hold undeniable pleasures in 2000: momentous themes of modernity, seductive ironies, glorious choruses, thrilling melodic surges, and fabulous tangos. The naysayers (mostly European critics on the left) who used to discount Weill's contributions as secondary to Brecht's have been, by now, largely drowned out.
The diversity of the composer's oeuvre reveals his artistic ambition, not his indirection or accommodation--and his artistry extends far beyond composing into the foggier realm of theatrical collaboration. If we can claim him for ourselves, Weill was above all a man of the theater--the old-fashioned kind. He cut his teeth writing incidental music for all kinds of plays in rehearsals at regional houses; he knew precisely how to structure his scores around dramatic texts and responded to staging, setting, and performers' presences with enormous sensitivity. Appropriately enough, theater historians and musicologists have begun to examine his theatrical collaborations with new vitality; it's now clear that we need to grasp the nuances of his collaborations if we want [End Page 2] to understand the charm (and occasional unevenness) of his work. Several contributors writing in this issue explore such questions.
The international centenary should also point U.S. theaters toward the rich but...