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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

1903: BAM’s Last Brooklyn Heights Thanksgiving

Ninety-eight years ago today, there was a special Thanksgiving performance of Way Down East at BAM’s original building on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Penned by Lottie Blair Parker, Way Down East was one of the most popular theatrical productions of the first decade of the 20th century. After over 4,000 performances, the piece had been largely retired until D.W. Griffith bought the rights to the story and made it into a film starring Lillian Gish in 1920.

Way Down East has further significance to BAM’s history: it was the last production to play in the original building before it burned to the ground on November 30, 1903 (more on this next week).

And there is a curious parallel between Way Down East and what was originally scheduled to be BAM’s first operatic production back in 1861, Verdi’s La Traviata. Way Down East tells of the tragic wanderings of Anna Moore, a woman who loses the child from a love affair, is taken in by strangers, and then cast out again once they learn of her past. La Traviata tells the story of Violetta Valéry, a Parisian courtesan who through harsh social mores and familial disdain is denied her true love, Alfredo Germont. In the final scenes of both Way Down East and La Traviata, our heroines die undue deaths.

La Traviata was pulled from BAM’s first season by certain conservative and influential board members, due to what they perceived as “immoral” content. (An 11th hour replacement was found in the safer Il Giuramento.) While the opera was in fact presented in BAM’s second season, and has been presented by us many times since, one can’t help but wonder if the fire that destroyed the original BAM building the week after Thanksgiving in 1903 was ignited by the vengeful spirit of Violetta Valéry as embodied by Anna Moore. Let us hope now, as the 2011 holiday season begins, that they are both happier and healthier than they were on our stage.

And, dear readers of the BAM Blog, we hope that you too have a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving. Keep your eyes out for that elusive BAM Turkey:

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