It is brave and wonderful of the Royal Opera House to stage this powerful 1930s opera about the fictional city of Mahagonny, a law-free utopia founded by criminal which rapidly turns into dystopia.
We were spoilt by a plethora of world-class singers: Anne Sofie von Otter as metropolis-mother Leocadia Begbick treated us to a fabulous East End accent (and Zandra Rhodes hair) and the superb Willard White’s Trinity Moses, one of her co-conspirators who boxes a man to death, was a delight.
But it was Christine Rice as the prostitute Jenny who stole the show. Rice’s gorgeous, rich mezzo voice had everyone entranced – what an exquisite sound. She was well-matched by Kurt Streit’s passionate Jimmy, who has come to Mahagonny to spend the fortune he made logging in Alaska over seven hard years.
A special mention should go to Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Jack, with his hilarious ability to sing like a god while eating vats of porridge -before he quite literally dies of gluttony.
Kurt Weill’s music creeps under your skin, sometimes dissonant but always melodic; there are a couple of great numbers such as Alabama Song http://www.roh.org.uk/news/oh-show-us-the-way-to-the-next-whisky-bar and some great scoring for the orchestra, but it isn’t always consistent and sometimes these great singers are left with not enough to get their teeth into vocally.
The witty libretto translation by Jeremy Sams and the cleverly layered set (by Es Devlin) of a full-size truck and countless shipping containers hiding contraband, sleazy brothels and louche piano bars, make this piece, directed by John Fulljames, contemporary yet hyper-relevant. It certainly captures the spirit of the 1930s while being hot on today’s topics such as people-trafficking, corruption, climate change and lawless states executing the innocent.
Mark Wigglesworth conducted this renegade opera with a firm grip, giving it structure and cohesion. I loved this production; it was provocative enough for the ROH audience without being distasteful, and gave a huge operatic scope to a piece normally confined to semi-staged productions or small independent theatres.
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny runs until 4 April 2015