Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mahagonny 2012

Tonight (24 January) the Vienna State Opera will perform the premiere of its new production of the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht has never been performed at the Staatsoper before. It was first staged in Leipzig in 1930 and Nazi protests ensured that back then it had only four performances. The full opera was preceded by a smaller version, the Mahagonny Songspiel.

The new Vienna production promises to come quite close to the Brechtian ideal of epic theatre. The stage design and costumes have a strong surrealist element and reflect Brecht's desire for theatre to have a clear "distancing effect" on audiences. The famous Alabama Song is sung by Jenny Smith and a sextet of doll-like figures dressed in orange. In the pit Ingo Metzmacher promises to deliver a refined and intelligent reading of the score while the French director Jérôme Deschamps aims to remain close to the text.

I have never found that Mahagonny's more popular older sister - the Threepenny Opera - really achieved much in terms of social critique. The songs quickly became too popular for that and too often productions drift of it drift into a comfortable kind of kitsch. The new Vienna Mahagonny promises a more contemporary and thought-provoking experience.

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