Kurt Weill, City of Mahagonny (ROH Orchestra cond. Mark Wigglesworth)
Four men come from seven years in Alaska, cutting down pine trees, pitting themselves against nature in search of filthy lucre – Jimmy McIntyre (Kurt Streit); Jack O’Brien (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts); Bank-Account Bill (Darren Jeffrey), Alaska Wolf Joe (Neal Davies); meanwhile Leocadia Begbick (Anne Sofie von Otter), Trinity Moses (Williard W. White) and Fatty (Peter Hoare) are planning to build a new city to relieve them of their amassed fortunes. Not just them. Anyone. In Mahagonny, everything will be for sale. Especially sex and booze.
ROH Introduction (5 mins).
A hurricane approaches, and the end seems nigh for Mahagonny; but survival by great fortune.
Each of the four perishes. but Jimmy McIntyre commits the worst crime. He doesn’t gorge himself on corned beef but orders a big round of drinks for which he can't afford to pay. Killing is one thing. But not being able to pay? The powers that be cannot comprehend this.
It follows then that the work is remarkably timely and prescient. It is de-regulation which does it for Mahagonny: does this deliberately prefigure the excesses of the “big bang”? the empty signs before postmodernism? Music separated from the words? Deconstructing the distinction between high and low culture, opera and music hall? It seems it.
ROH Weill's music (3m).
The real star of the show was the stunning projections (designed by Finn Ross – some pictures here) on which the production relied heavily. Sometimes these can be lazy, or a distraction. But here they were inspired. The textual driver was made part of the scenery. The cinema presentation was the logical corollary of this. You can sell more of it. The stage curtain had projected on it: programmes £7 and rising. (I am not sure the ROH can hope to charge much more.) Our modern chorus – Voice – is Paterson Joseph’s unmistakable voice.
Given this textual imperative, a new translation from Jeremy Sams (also Figaro on Saturday night), made it work. In the original it might have struggled.
Es Devlin's staging was ingenious, and makes the whole thing contemporarily relevant. Containers on the back of a lorry (which breaks down) rotate to carry immigrants, from the city and Alaska; the thing turns round as brothel and bar. Containers are stacked up with as ship outline; and then open out to become the city post big-bang. Weill and Brecht seemed to foresee containerization, globalization, and deregulation. What else did they see?
ROH Es Devlin on set design (4m).
Acts II and III remarkably step up a gear. Jack gorges himself on corned beef until he dies; Jimmy bets all his money on Joe in the fight. Jimmy can’t pay the fine. Then comes justice Mahagonny-style: you get the justice you can afford. Brecht is in fantasy land? Bear in mind the government allows super-injunctions whilst cutting legal aid. So surely selling tickets to court is the next thing? In Mahagonny, anyway, everything is for sale.Fulljames seemed to think we would be more alert and would fall asleep listening to Wagner. If a second thing were verboten in liberated Mahagonny I hope it would be lazy stupid assumptions about Wagner from people who should know better. Fulljames then gave examples of only Verdi, Puccini and Wagner in discussions. There are others, you know.
This hadn't seemed like worth the trek to Covent Garden, but I'm not so sure now. My mistake here wasn't buying a ticket. And now there aren't any left. I'll have to buy the DVD when it is released.
Overall: so out you go: humming the tunes but chastened too. Much food for thought. It isn’t perfect opera but it is tremendous theatre.
Conductor - Mark Wigglesworth
Leocadia Begbick - Anne Sofie von Otter
Fatty - Peter Hoare
Trinity Moses - Willard W. White
Jenny - Christine Rice
Jimmy McIntyre - Kurt Streit
Jack O'Brien - Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Bank Account Bill - Darren Jeffery
Alaska Wolf Joe - Neal Davies
Toby Higgins - Hubert Francis
Girls - Anna Burford;
Voice - Paterson Joseph
Bar Pianist - Robert Clark
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Music - Kurt Weill
Libretto - Bertolt Brecht
Director - John Fulljames
Set designs -Orchestra Es Devlin
Costume designs - Christina Cunningham
Lighting design - Bruno Poet
Video designs - Finn Ross
Choreography - Arthur Pita
Translation - Jeremy Sams