Uncomfortable production this, at least at tonight’s First Night. Christine Rice’s Jenny’s song was the highlight for me but otherwise international standard opera singing feels wrong in most of Weil’s music, despite Kobbé and others’ argument that The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is opera. Brechts’ slogan-shouting Marxism is too literal for this to be an ironic contrast nor does this production play on the satire.
The Royal Opera House made over like the National Theatre (programme sellers in production t-shirts, credits list pasted to the walls in the foyer and projection of spoof Mahagonny advertising in the house before the overture) is a difficult coat for the opera house to wear. Of course the video projections stagecraft and lighting are excellent, the orchestra beyond reproach (and I’m sure none of this comes without much effort) but making the transition from musical theatre to royal opera is uncomfortable. Much easier for opera singers to take on - say - South Pacific.
Christine Rice was in particularly good voice singing Jenny, full voice, sordid and bitter but not preaching. Brilliant to hear Anne Sophie van Otter and Willard W. White cast so well. It sounds as though the cast had a lot of fun this production, as did Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weil in their productions.
Being familiar from recordings with the original German text, I found hearing the English translation strange rather than the German original text. Again why, as this is Covent Garden not ENO. And surtitles even though the production was entirely in English, the diction good and spoken dialogue reinforced electronically.
A good modern production, some intriguing false perspective, interesting use of video projection, subtle voice reinforcement for spoken lines and happily no amplification for singing (unlike a musical theatre presentation). But overall this would have been better presented at the South Bank on the Lyttleton stage at the National Theatre. Weil’s music is good, particularly the usual selection of five songs from Mahagonny but the interest is much more in Brecht’s pointed political commentary, and I feel that would have been explored better in a theatrical production. Alternatively, this production needs to be more forward in expounding the political content.
This is the third of this year’s productions at Covent Garden where the original production sparked riots (Mahagonny) or was censored for fear of insurrection (Andrea Chénier and Un ballo in maschera). I wonder is this is a deliberate theme for this season!
Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny
Music: Kurt Weill
Libretto: Bertolt Brecht
Director: John Fulljames
Set designs: Es Devlin
Costume designs: Christina Cunningham
Lighting design: Bruno Poet
Video designs: Finn Ross
Choreography: Arthur Pita
Translation: Jeremy Sams
Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
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
Girl: Anna Burford
Girl: Lauren Fagan
Girl: Anush Hovhannisyan
Girl: Stephanie Marshall
Girl: Meeta Raval
Girl: Harriet Williams
Voice: Paterson Joseph
Bar Pianist: Robert Clark
Royal Opera Chorus, Concert Master Sergey Levitin