New York Performances
*Sunday, March 5, 2017, at 2:30 pm Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, NY Sunday, March 12, 2017, at 3:00 pm Community Church of NY, 40 E. 35th St., Manhattan Thursday, March 23, 2017, at 7:00 pm - by invitation only at HBO, 1100 6th Ave., Manhattan Saturday, March 25, 2017, at 8:00 pm New York University, Rm 220, 32 Waverly Pl., corner University
An Opera in One Act
Libretto by Ellen Frankel
Music by Leonard Lehrman
A Puffin Foundation commission
starring Alessandra Altieri, David Anchel, David Aubrey, Jackie Bakewell,
Charles Samuel Brown, John Callison, Bill Castleman, Kevin Courtemanche,
Amy Glass, Emily Misch, Michael Niemann, Michelle Pellegrino, Mary Rice,
Perri Sussman, Thomas Smith, Nancy Zucker
Production Manager: Helene Williams Consultant: Leigh Benin
with The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus in association with The Bronx Opera
and The Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council
Conducted by the Composer
PREMIERE: September 4, 2016, at 3:30 pm
American Labor Museum, 83 Norwood St., Haledon, NJ
September 11, 2016, at 4:00 pm
Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ
About the opera
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan, killing 146 garment workers, most of them young Jewish and Italian women recently arrived from Europe. It was one of the worst industrial accidents in American history. Ten days later, 400,000 New Yorkers participated in a funeral march honoring the Triangle victims. Public outrage over the dangerous working conditions, including doors locked to prevent worker theft, led to major reforms in New York's and then the nation’s labor laws, and strengthened the growing union movement, which many of the Triangle workers had fought for in a strike two years before. But when Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the Triangle’s owners, known popularly as “the Shirtwaist Kings,” were put on trial for manslaughter that December, they were acquitted. Blanck and Harris were awarded $400 per victim from their insurance. The victims’ families received an average of $75 in compensation.
This is the first opera ever to deal exclusively with the subject, its aftermath, and the ramifications for today. Focusing on the trial in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Crain, and drawing from the transcript and newspaper accounts, the work explores a human triangle central to this story, with the Triangle Factory’s owners at its apex, and the two trial lawyers on opposing sides: Debating the owners' culpability are defense lawyer Max David Steuer, a Jewish immigrant and former garment worker, who has worked his way up to become “the Million Dollar Lawyer,” favored defender of gangsters and Tammany Hall pols; and the conservative well-to-do New York Assistant District Attorney, Charles F. Bostwick. The prosecution bases its entire case on the fate of a single victim, 24-year-old Margaret Schwartz. Harris's and Blanck's guilt or innocence hinges on the charred door lock found in the rubble of the ninth floor where Margaret worked—and died. Did the owners deliberately lock the door, which trapped Margaret and her fellow workers inside the blazing inferno? Or if they didn’t, did they culpably know that the door was locked?
The prosecution’s key witness is 19-year-old Kate Alterman, a sewing machine operator and Margaret’s best friend, who watched her friend burn in front of that locked door. In a flashback, Kate recalls calling for the doors to be unlocked, as the trapped women cried "Save us! Es brennt!" while Max grabbed his daughters out of the elevator, taking them to the roof, and Isaac tried to rescue as many as he could. Under intense cross-examination by the defense attorney, Kate's testimony is discredited. When the jury returns its verdict, Blanck and Harris are acquitted. But it is the victims who have the last word. At the end of the opera, the ghosts of the Triangle workers are joined by the ghosts of other garment workers killed in a 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, reminding us that the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire have not yet been learned by those who hold the keys to power.
About the Creators
Composer: Leonard Lehrman's previous works include A Requiem for Hiroshima (with Lee Baxandall),
(with Marc Blitzstein).
Librettist: Ellen Frankel's works include Women of Valor, The Esther Diaries, R.U.R., and Mothers of Moses, with various composers. This is their first collaboration together. Biography on Wikipedia.org
Help Support the Opera: How to Contribute
The total budget for all six performances, $20,500, covering honoraria for the performers, including the creators, was nearly all raised from supporters of the project, listed in the program, in the following categories:
Sponsor $1000+ Patron $500+ Donor $250+ Contributor $100+ Friend $25+
Contributions received after Mar. 25, 2017 will be applied toward a fund to finance a full orchestral production in the future. Checks should be made out to The Prof. Edgar H. Lehrman Memorial Foundation, Inc. (Fed. ID #11-2916112) and mailed to 33 Court Street, Valley Stream, NY 11580. All contributors receive reserved seats at a performance of their choice.
fire victim; Bill Castleman as reporter
Thomas Smith as Defense Attorney
Watch performance videos:
September 11, 2016, Puffin Cultural Forum
March 25, 2017, New York University
*This performance was made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Huntington Arts Arts Council.
with production photos by Helene Williams