Down in the Valley is a folk-opera in one act by composer Kurt Weill and librettist Arnold Sundgaard, initially composed and conceived for the radio in 1945 then rewritten and produced in 1948. It uses famous American tunes to carry the story (including “Down in the Valley”, “The Lonesome Dove”, and “Hop Up, My Ladies”) and connected by original choral music.
This short opera, originally running only about 20 minutes, was conceived as the first of a series of radio operas by Olin Downes, the music critic of The New York Times, and Charles McArthur, a businessman. The radio idea eventually fell through for lack of a sponsor, although Maurice Abravanel conducted an audition recording that was never broadcast. Hans Heinsheimer, the director of publications at Schirmer, approached Weill with a request for a school opera like Der Jasager for production by the opera department of Indiana University School of Music. Weill expanded and simplified Down in the Valley to a 40-minute version, and the revised version had its world premiere at that university in Bloomington, Indiana in 1948, directed by Hans Busch (son of Fritz Busch) and conducted by Ernst Hoffmann. Alan Jay Lerner’s wife, Marion Bell, played Jennie. The piece was soon broadcast on NBC radio. In 1950, it was broadcast on NBC television. It was subsequently produced in July 1952 in Provincetown, New York at the Provincetown Playhouse, directed by Tony Randall. (by wikipedia)
The chorus sings “Down in the Valley,” interwoven with the Leader’s sung exposition of the story of Brack Weaver, who “died for the love of sweet Jennie Parsons / He died for the slaying of Thomas Bouché.” (The Leader acts as a singing narrator throughout the work.)
The action shifts to Brack’s cell in Birmingham jail the night before he is to be executed. Brack has just seen the mail train go by, and he asks the guard whether he has received a letter from Jennie Parsons. The guard says no. Anguished, Brack sings “Where Is the One Who Will Mourn Me When I’m Gone.” Against the advice of another prisoner, he escapes and sets off for Jennie’s house, with the sheriff and a posse in pursuit.
At 2:00 a.m. Jennie is sitting up on her porch, grieving over Brack’s impending death. Her father tells her to come inside and forget about Brack, but she’s inconsolable, lost in memories of their time together and declaring that her love will never die (“Brack Weaver, My True Love”). After her father goes back in the house, Jennie hears Brack’s whistle in the distance, and she ventures out to look for him. When she finds him, they embrace, but the posse can be heard circling ever closer. Jennie explains to him her father wouldn’t let her write to him. Brack asks her if she loves him. Yes, she ardently replies (“The Lonesome Dove”).
Brack recalls their first “date,” when they walked home from a Wednesday night prayer meeting a year earlier, and the scene shifts to the church–the congregation sings “The Little Black Train,” after which Brack walks Jennie home. Brack tells Jennie he saw her walking home the previous week with Thomas Bouché, a shady businessman who had cheated his father. Jennie protests that she has no feelings for Bouché. Brack then asks Jennie if she’ll go with him to the dance at Shadow Creek. When she says yes, he is beside himself with joy (“Hop Up, My Ladies”). But when Jennie arrives home, her father is sitting on the porch with Bouché. The much older man also asks Jennie to the dance. She balks, and Bouché says he will return later for her answer, implicitly threatening her. Jennie’s father presses her to go to the dance with Bouché, who is ostensibly helping him with his financial troubles. When Jennie fiercely refuses, her father warns her that she can’t go to the dance with anyone else, either.
Kurt Weill with his wife Lotta Lenya
Jennie meets Brack at the dance (“Hoedown,” based on “Sourwood Mountain”). Brack takes Jennie aside and declares his love for her. At that moment, a drunken Bouché shows up and demands that Brack get away from his woman. Brack refuses, and they fight. Bouché is killed in the melee. Brack flees but is apprehended and imprisoned.
The flashback ends–it’s now almost dawn. Brack surrenders willingly, now that he knows Jennie will always care for him. From the jail cell, he contributes a verse of “Down in the Valley” as Jennie and the Chorus sing a final reprise. (by Mark N. Grant)
Here we hear Alfred Drake in the main role:
Alfred Drake (October 7, 1914 – July 25, 1992) was an American actor and singer.
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Born as Alfred Capurro in New York City, the son of parents emigrated from Recco, Genoa, Drake began his Broadway career while still a student at Brooklyn College. He is best known for his leading roles in the original Broadway productions of Oklahoma!; Kiss Me, Kate; Kismet; and for playing Marshall Blackstone in the original production of Babes in Arms, (in which he sang the title song) and Hajj in Kismet, for which he received the Tony Award. He was also a prolific Shakespearean, notably starring as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing opposite Katharine Hepburn.
Drake was mostly a stage and television actor; he starred in only one film, Tars and Spars (1946), but played several roles on television. He appeared in a minor film role as president of the stock exchange in the classic comedy Trading Places (1983), with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. His first musical television appearance was as Captain Dick Warrington in the January 15, 1955 live telecast of the operetta Naughty Marietta. His 1964 stage performance as Claudius in the Richard Burton Hamlet was filmed live on the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, using a “quickie” process called Electronovision, and shown in movie theatres in a very limited engagement. It was also recorded on LP. His final stage appearance in a musical was in 1973 as Honore LaChaisse in Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi. Two years later he starred in a revival of The Skin of Our Teeth.
As a director he staged the 1974 premiere of The Royal Rape of Ruari Macasmunde at the Virginia Museum Theater. He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.
He was also a published author – writing at least a few plays: Dr. Willy Nilly, an adaptation of Molière’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself, an adaptation of Goldoni’s The Liar, and even at least one book on cards (specifically Gin Rummy).
Alfred Drake died of heart failure, after a long fight with cancer, in New York City at the age of 77. (by wikipedia)
And Kurt Weill died on 3. April 1950 in New York City; “Down In The Valley” was his last completed composition.
Norman Atkins (Thomas Bouché)
Leo Bernache (Peters)
Alfred Drake (Brack Weaver)
Dorothy Egen (First Woman)
Herman Hennig (A Man)
Leonard Kranendonk (Guard)
June McMechon) (Second Woman)
John Petterson (Jennie´s Father)
Danny Slick (The Preacher/The Leader)
Jane Wilson (Jennie Parsons)
Orchstra and Chorus conducted by Maurice Levine
Entire production under supervision of Kurt Weill
01. Down in the Valley (Part One) 15.04
01.1.Down In The Valley
01.2 The Lonesome Dove
02. Down in the Valley (Part Two) 14.41
Music Kurt Weill
Lyrics: Arnold Sundgaard
Taken from Kurt Weill: “An Illustrated Life” by Jürgen Schebera, Yale University, 1995