The piece had its world premiere in Germany at Theater K-9, in Konstanz, in 1996.
From William Osborne’s brief description:
Imagine a singer living among the dumpsters behind the Met. Tomorrow is her big audition at the Opera House — if only she could think of what to sing. She colors her world with opera excerpts, grandiose Swan Songs and wild escapades on her trombone — but as she makes preparations for her final big audition, we see that the brutality of the street has long since caused the borderlines between life and opera to blur. “Street Scene” explores the belief that cultural identity is necessary for survival, that it is a way of confronting our human condition. We examine the stereotyped ways women are portrayed in opera, especially the violence they suffer.
Further remarks from the full program note:
Women characters in opera tend to be abused and fallen, or simpletons who make their living by embroidering, or heroines sacrificing themselves for the well being of a heroic man. Their identity is often determined by a degrading relationship to men who are portrayed as superior and in command.
In opera these images take musical forms, and are imprinted upon our minds so deeply that they haunt our subconscious almost like advertising jingles. After singing a passage portraying Brunhilde, the Mad Soprano comes forward to comment on the way opera permeates her self-expression: “Why’s it so easy to sing, why’s it bubble right up, when you least expect it?” It is a fact that opera singers can’t just portray their roles. They have to live them.
We see the Mad Soprano’s increasing conflict with the way opera subversively shapes her identity. Music theater, for example, contains a great deal of ennobled violence against women. Through operatic aggrandizement, we celebrate simple things like wife beating. The Mad Soprano, however, tells a less adorned truth about the domestic abuse of her friend Betty. But as she leaves off her roles, and speaks to us directly, we see hints that her reality is even more dream-like than the theater roles she is practicing. Is what women perceive as their true world merely a construction created by a male society?