On Site Opera in Harlem to Present Gershwin’s ‘Blue Monday’

Early symphonic jazz work predates ‘Porgy and Bess’

On June 18th and 19th, On Site Opera and the Harlem Opera Theater will present performances of George Gershwin’s Blue Monday at the iconic New York Cotton Club. This one-act jazz drama, later renamed 135th Street, was written in 1922 and is considered one of the earliest recognized symphonic jazz works. Despite being heralded as a significant attempt to capture the musical idioms and influences of both jazz and classical art music, the piece was poorly received following its scandalous premiere. The upcoming June production constitutes an attempt to bring light to one of Gershwin’s lesser known works, one that looks forward to the mastery of Porgy and Bess, in a way that is both redemptive and culturally immersive.

On Site Opera, an up-and-coming New York-based production company, is dedicated to the creation of site-specific and interactive performance experiences. Artistic Director Eric Einhorn expressed his excitement about the collaborative nature of this particular project. He noted that other contributors include Gregory Hopkins of the Harlem Opera Company, Tony Award-winning choreographer George Faison and members of the Harlem Chamber Players. Cultural organizations and significant local figures have been invited to support the programming, in efforts to guarantee that the audience will experience first-hand the weight of the “deep cultural foundation in Harlem, both then and now.” While the jazz opera only runs about 25 minutes, audience members will be invited to arrive early and enjoy an hour of cocktails and dancing prior to the show. 1920s and ’30s era jazz music will be provided by the Club’s renowned resident big band, the Cotton Club All Stars.

Einhorn noted that this constitutes a unique “genre-straddling” piece that will enable professionally trained vocalists and actors to work with master jazz and swing players. While the vocal and visual components will come from classically trained performers, the “sonic world is going to be rooted in true jazz and blues styles,” he said. Ultimately, the audience will be offered a chance to transport back in time and experience both the vibrancy and drama that culturally defined Harlem during a historically transformative period.

Patrons who purchase a $20 ticket are guaranteed general admission and are invited to arrive at 7 p.m. for an hour of music and dancing. Tickets can be purchased at Blue Monday and more information about the event can be found on the On Site Opera website: OS Opera. The Cotton Club is located at 656 West 125th Street in New York City.