Monday, 6 April 2015

Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, The Royal Opera, The Royal Opera House, Odeon Live Cinema, Chelmsford

Thanks to the wonders of modern digital technology and having waited many decades to experience this rarely performed opera by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil I found myself sitting in the dark of my local cinema to see a cinema relay transmitted live from London.
This transmission very nearly didn't happen after a massive fire and electrical breakdown in London's Kingsway, a short step away from the Opera House meant that their patrons had no refreshments other than water. Meaning we were the luxury end of the market that evening.
One thing struck me watching this vicious morality tale of the effects of greed and in particular listening to Weil's music how it was influenced by Prokofiev and then on down just what an effect it in turn has had on succeeding generations of 20th and 21st Century composers. At the moment Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is on stage at the Coliseum just around the corner from the ROH, in a concert version. 
As a teenager, simply to hear the astonishing opening chords of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet I was hooked for life. Yes, there were many melodies in his work but come down to Weil whose effect on me was again instantaneous in songs such as Surabaya Johnny and you cannot relax into comforting melody. So then on down to Sondheim whose truncated melodies in By The Sea or A Little Priest try never to let you go.  Weil just lets you sink into the first few bars of The Alabama Song - Show Me The Way To The Next Whiskey Bar and you are off into discords and deliberately chosen clashes of harmony.
But still days after experiencing all of them I'm either humming them still or I can hear them in my head. Enough of the musical discursion. 
Back to Mahagonny. Jeremy Sams did the English translation, which I approved of since I wanted to know every word and phrase. Mark Wrigglesworth conducted the massive orchestra. The exaggerated costumes designed by Christina Cunningham were witty and beautifully made. Lighting design by Bruno Poet underlined the constant changes of plot, place and weather.
Es Devlin's imaginative, colourful, erotic set designs were based on a transport truck. She (an Olivier winner 2015) was able to revolve it and by using its curtain walls to their maximum, framed what Director John Fulljames described as a mini stage within a stage.This and the use of video and sharp choreography enabled him to force us to concentrate on the mindbending actions of the plot.
The superb casting included Anne Sofie Von Otter as the Widow Leocadia Begbick whose performance and singing were an icy portrait in sound and acting of a woman determined to rule her two fellow caricature criminals. Peter Hoare's excellent Fatty in his pin stripe suit and Willard White's Trinity Moses. This unholy trio set out to create a city where everything was allowed.
Among the unfortunates they encountered and exploited were Christine Rice's superb Jenny, beautifully sung and full of sadness; Kurt Streit's eyecatching Jimmy Mcintyre, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts' Jack O'Brien and Darren Jeffery's Bank-Account Bill were high rollers intent on enjoying themselves using the proceeds of their hard work in Alaska.
Nobody succeeded in their nefarious intents and it was all introduced by the handsome and wittily cynical Paterson Joseph.
Mary Redman
April 6 2015

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