Blitzstein The Cradle Will Rock
Ginger Costa-Jackson, Keith Jameson, Christopher Burchett; Nina Spinner, Larry Foreman, Andy Papas, Efraín Solís, Dylan Elza, Jorgeandrés Camargo, Justin Hopkins, Scott Purcell, Michael Anderson, Eric McConnell; Opera Saratoga Orchestra/John Mauceri
Bridge 9511A/B 111:26 mins (2 discs)
Mark Blitzstein’s ‘play in music’ The Cradle Will Rock was intended to rattle political cages, and it did just that. Days before the piece was due to open in 1937, the government agency which had funded it withdrew support, citing financial difficulties. In reality Blitzstein’s subject matter was simply too controversial – The Cradle had a fervently pro-union, anti-big business storyline, at a time when America was fomenting paranoia about Communism and anti-capitalistic influences.
The premiere went ahead, with Blitzstein replacing the orchestra on piano, and that is how the work has often been performed since. This live performance from Opera Saratoga is the first complete recording of The Cradle with Blitzstein’s original orchestrations. It makes a punchy, highly colourful impression. Blitzstein’s orchestra includes an accordion, Hawaiian guitar, maracas and saxophones, and conductor John Mauceri relishes the extra tang and sizzle that they bring the music. His pacing is excellent, and he flips seamlessly between the songs, recitative, spoken dialogue, and underscoring used in the mosaic-like structure. The cast is large – 27 solo parts plus chorus – and full of fine young voices, all sharply schooled in the biting, satirical flavour of Blitzstein’s writing. Among them Audrey Babcock as the vapidly philistine Mrs Mister, Matt Boehler as her robber-baron husband, and Justin Hopkins as the theologically-flexible Reverend Salvation are especially impressive. Blitzstein’s music is a teeming mix of jazz, Broadway and operatic influences. It sizzles in this excellent performance of a work long overdue an authoritative recording.