This 2007 Los Angeles Opera production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny makes a powerful case for a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill work that seemed forever doomed to take a back seat to their popular Threepenny Opera. It's cut from the same cloth, however: Brecht's acerbic text and Weill's imaginative blend of classical forms, post-Romantic irony, and cabaret music make it irresistible, especially in a production that captures the spirit and style of the work. Inspired casting marks the production's success--the critical roles of Jenny and the Leocadia Begbick were entrusted to two stars of the musical stage, Audra McDonald and Patti Lupone. Their outsized performances are mesmerizing--McDonald's singing and acting reveal emotional depths one never suspected of Jenny, while Lupone's amoral Begbick is almost endearing in her over-the-top aggressiveness. Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey matches them with a portrayal of the naive innocent, Jimmy McIntyre, that's deeply affecting and beautifully sung. Donnie Ray Albert brings his imposing dramatic baritone and physical presence to the role of Trinity Moses, Begbick's right-hand man. Conductor James Conlon has Weill's idiom down pat, and his orchestra plays with the rhythmic drive and edgy bite the score demands.
Brecht's text is very much of its time, the late 1920's. The city of Mahagonny is a vision--really a nightmare--of capitalist greed where sin flourishes, money is all, and poverty is a crime. On the run from the police, Begbick and her accomplices are stalled in the desert and decide to build a city "where anything goes." Soon the place is booming, with money tossed around aimlessly. But money doesn't bring happiness when love is a commodity and license to do anything turns into boredom. When the city survives the threat of a typhoon, the people binge, celebrating to an excess of eating, loving, fighting, and drinking. When Jimmy can't pay his liquor bill he's condemned to death.
While Brecht's vision of theatre distances the audience, stage director John Doyle's stylistically minimalist production allows room for emotional impact, primarily through the affecting acting of McDonald and Griffey, whose death scene is moving in its simple staging. Against designer Mark Bailey's non-realistic sets that suggest, rather than portray, the city, Doyle deploys his cast in expressionistic modes, often lined across the stage directly addressing the audience. And Brecht would have approved the contemporary references sprinkled through the production--the sin city in the desert recalls Las Vegas' transformation into a gambling mecca in the 1950s, and after Jimmy's execution, his paramour Jenny is presented with a neatly folded flag reminiscent of military burials. The DVD production faithfully tracks the stage action, wisely pulling back for full stage views as well as providing sufficient close-ups of the action. The opera is done in Michael Feingold's idiomatic translation but it would have been helpful to have English subtitles. An extra bonus track is a cogent interview with conductor James Conlon, who provides valuable analysis of the opera and its context. --Dan Davis
Welcome to Mahagonny, where sin is "in" and love is always on sale. This Old West boomtown rises from the desert to become a razzle-dazzle mecca for lust, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure. Cash is king, poverty is punishable by death, and anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Director John Doyle melds his Tony Award winning talent with the lyrics of influential playwright Bertolt Brecht and an incomparable score by Kurt Weill. The brilliant cast is led by superstars Audra McDonald, as the tart-with-a-heart `Jenny' and Patti LuPone, who portrays the town's feisty madam. Audra McDonald · Patti LuPone · Anthony Dean Griffey Robert Wörle · John Easterlin · Mel Ulrich Directed for Stage by John Doyle Chorus and Orchestra of the Los Angeles Opera James Conlon, conductor
- Recorded live at Los Angeles Opera, 1 & 4 March 2007 - Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic - Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1 · DTS 5.1 - Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish - Booklet Notes: English, German, French - Bonus feature: "James Conlon on Mahagonny"
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