powered by FreeFind



1-act Jazz Opera. Music by George Gershwin; Libretto and Lyrics D.G. De Sylva; Vocal score and adaptation by George Bassman A one-act opera, lasting approximately 30 minutes, first appeared in George White's Scandals of 1922. It was retitled 135th Street and revived in 1970.


(A basement cafe near 135th Street and Lennox Avenue)

Vi is due to meet Joe, with whom she is madly in love, at the cafe and has arrived a little early. While she is waiting, Tom declares his love for her and tries to persuade her to forget Joe. When she refuses, he tries to kiss her, they struggle and Vi threatens him with a gun. When Joe arrives he is in good humour having had a recent win in a dice game. He tells Mike that he is going to use the money to visit his mother whom he has not seen for a long time; he is just waiting for a reply to the telegram he has sent her. However, he does not want Vi to know about his trip as she is a very jealous woman and would not let him go for any reason.

Unfortunately, Tom has overheard their conversation, and at the first opportunity he tells Vi that Joe is expecting a telegram from a woman. When it arrives she demands to see it but Joe refuses saying that it has nothing to do with her. In her anger, she pulls out her gun and shoots him. As Joe sinks to the floor, dropping the telegram, Vi picks it up and is horrified to see that it is from his sister informing Joe that there is no point in him coming to visit as his mother has been dead for three years. Realising that she has made a terrible mistake she begs Joe to forgive her which he does knowing that he will soon be seeing his mother after all.


Place: A basement café near the intersection of 135th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem, New York City.

Time: An evening during the Jazz Age, beginning at around 9:30 P.M.

After a brief overture, the gambler Joe appears in front of the curtain as a Prologue, in an obvious reference to the character Tonio's opening aria in Pagliacci. Like that number, which explained the serious nature of Leoncavallo's opera as if it were an actual event, Joe tells his audience that just like "the white man's opera", this "colored (Harlem) tragedy enacted in operatic style" focusses on primal human emotions such as love, hate, passion and jealousy, and that the moral of the story is that tragic results come from when a women's intuition goes wrong.

As the curtain rises on a café with a bar, gambling room and dance floor, café owner Mike berates his worker Sam for his laziness and commands him to get to work. As Sam sweeps the floor, he relates that he resents "Blue Monday" because he always loses at dice gambling and it is the day when people die, and concludes that there is no use working on Mondays . The pianist Sweetpea arrives and plays for a while until the arrogant singer Tom comes in and knocks her out of the way, claiming that the only reason the café is still in business is his singing. Joe's sweetheart Vi enters, asking if anyone has seen her "lovin' man" Joe, for which she is supposed to meet for a date.

When Mike goes to the backroom to ask if anyone has seen Joe, Tom attempts to seduce and woo Vi. When Tom tells her that he loves her and asks what she sees in the gambler Joe, Vi angrily that retorts that even if he gambles, Joe is a man and unique. Tom continues to try to persuade Vi to leave Joe for him and attempts to kiss her, when Vi threatens him with a revolver that Joe had given her. Mike returns with the news that no one has seen Joe, and Vi leaves. Mike again calls Sam and scolds him for being lazy, and as Sam again sweeps the floor he sings a reprise of the song "Blue Monday". This time Sam more directly foreshadows the event to come, as he states that "Monday's a day full of sad, sad news /... That's when a gal will pull a trigger, / A gal will pull a trigger".

Joe enters the café and Tom hides behind the piano to eavesdrop on his conversation with Mike. After Mike tells Joe that Vi has been looking for him and that he has heard that Joe won a large deal of money in a crap game, Joe tells him that he is going to use the money to travel to the South the next morning to visit his mother, whom he hadn't seen in years and to whom he has recently sent a telegram. Joe says that he can not tell Vi that he is going, and when asked why by Mike he says that she gets jealous and angry for irrational reasons. He then relates how he yearns to see his mother and return home.

Joe goes upstairs to meet Vi, and slowly the night's guests and customers arrive. After a dance, Vi tells him that she loves only him and although she is a jealous woman, if he remains true to her then she will be his. When Joe leaves to wait for a telegram from his mother, Tom tells Vi that he overheard Joe's conversation and that the telegram is from another woman. Vi initially refuses to believe him, but when Sweetpea arrives with Joe's telegram, Vi accuses Joe of infidelity and demands to see the telegram. Joe rebukes her by pushing her away, and when he opens the envelope Vi shoots him with the revolver from her handbag.

Vi reads the letter, which says that there is no need for Joe to come because his mother had been dead for three years. When she realises what she has done, she sinks to the floor and begs Joe for forgiveness, which she receives. As Joe dies, he sings that he is finally going to see his mother in heaven..


Joe (a Gambler)
Vi (his Sweetheart)
Tom (Cafe Entertainer)
Mike (Cafe Proprietor)
Sam (Boy-of-all- Work)
Sweetpea (Cafe Pianist)


1st Reed - (Flute, B Flat Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Sax)
2nd Reed - (Flute, B Flat Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Sax, Piccolo)
3rd Reed - (Tenor Sax, B Flat Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Oboe)
4th Reed - (Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Cor Anglais)
5th Reed - (Baritone Sax, B Flat Clarinet, Flute, Bassoon)
2 Horns
3 Trumpets
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone
1 Timpani
1 Percussion
1 Banjo
2 Pianos
1 Full Score

Musical Numbers

  1. Ladies and gentlemen! - Joe
  2. Blue Monday Blues - Sam
  3. Has Anyone Seen My Joe? - Vi
  4. Monday's the Day That All the Earthquakes Quiver - Sam
  5. I'll Tell the World I Did - Joe
  6. I'm Gonna See My Mother - Joe
  7. I Love But You, My Joe, My Joe - Vi
  8. I'm Gonna See My Mother - Joe