Music as Literature, Literature as Music: Combining Aurality and Text in <i>Street Scene</i>


  • Maia Miller


intermediality, literature, music, opera, Elmer Rice, Street Scene, Kurt Weill


The story of Street Scene has been realized to high acclaim many times over as a play and as an opera. Each is exceptionally inventive and employs intermediality—the practice of creating a piece within a single medium while referencing, either literally or structurally, other mediums—to reach critical and popular success. Playwright Elmer Rice turned to music, which inspired his structure and introduced polyphony into his play Street Scene. He also incorporated the musical quality of repetition into his play and made it central to his characters’ oppressive social immobility. In his opera version of the story, composer Kurt Weill transformed literature into music to create uniform mental images similar to those evoked by words, and reversed Rice’s rejection of the narrating role by including arias in his opera. Each version of Street Scene has managed to transcend the limitations of its medium by reaching across the arts to convey the powerful and moving themes of alienation, loneliness, and diversity.