West Side Story makes it to a major US opera stage

West Side Story makes it to a major US opera stage


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2017

Houston Grand Opera, announcing its new season, claims to be the first major US opera house to be staging Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story:

West Side Story: Francesca Zambello directs first major American opera house presentation of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins’s beloved musical, featuring soprano Andrea Carroll and tenor Norman Reinhardt (April 20–May 6, 2018)

Other season highlights:  Christine Goerke as Elektra, Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as Julius Caesar and the U debut of Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim.


  • Richard Townson says:

    I can’t believe that it has taken this long for this to happen. West Side Story is much beloved and the quality of its music is the match of many of the operas that now make up the standard repertoire.

  • John says:

    Most of us remember that Houston (I believe) was the first major opera company in the US in 1976. West Side Story certainly has many operatic aspirations and should also be afforded this treatment. Wish I lived there. I’d be first in line for a ticket. Maybe a video or recording of the whole performance?

    • John says:

      OOPS! I just noticed that I didn’t complete my sentence. I meant to say that Houston was the first major house to stage Porgy & Bess in 1976

  • Halldor says:

    The non-appearance of West Side Story in opera houses so far is presumably not a question of the work’s quality, but of the famously prohibitive demands of the copyright holders (and with at least one of its creators still alive and active, it won’t be in the public domain much before the 22nd century). It was (and still is) a highly lucrative commercial property, to an extent that other less successful Bernstein shows that have been staged by opera companies (eg Candide, Wonderful Town) are not. Or so one assumes.

    • Gerhard says:

      I have trouble believing your assumption that the “famously prohibitive demands of the copyright holders” are really preventing potential performances. In Germany just the middle sized and small operas play West Side Story all the time, and these houses certainly don’t have the means to fulfill “prohibitive demands”.

  • Jon says:

    Though not a major opera house, Eugene Opera is doing West Side Story this March.

  • Rich C. says:

    Question for anyone: When is a work an opera, or when is it a stage show? I always thought an opera was when most dialogue was sung. Stage shows have almost all their dialogue spoken. I find it hard to think of West Side Story as an opera.

    BTW, Officer Krupke, KRUPE YOU!!!

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      It’s not as clear-cut as that. Les Mis has no spoken dialogue, Cats just a few words, but Carmen, in the opéra comique tradition, has lots. One could argue it’s more about the musical language than the time spent speaking.

  • Nick says:

    As Halldor points out and from my knowledge, the Bernstein estate has made it extremely difficult for new productions of this great work. For a long time it was a condition that the original Jerome Robbins choreography had to be included. Since that was very much of its time, it could stick out like a sore thumb in a more modern updating. I’m not sure if or when that changed.

    • Carlos Solare says:

      The Komische Oper in Berlin staged West Side Story a few years ago. It took some negotiating but the house’s Intendant, Barrie Kosky, secured the rights to create a new production in collaboration with the choreographer Otto Pichler. All the publicity material, as well as the programme books, had to include a reference to Jerome Robbins as the creator of the original show. It was a bilingual version with the dialogues in German and the musical numbers in English.