Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Rise and Fall of Mahagonny Brecht Weill

The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny opened the Ediburgh Festival this year, conducted by my hero, the inimitable HK Gruber. It's being broadcast by BBC Radio 3, so log on and listen.

Weill’s contribution to the Brecht/Weill partnership is often underestimated, and Weill is more inventive musically than he’s often given credit for. Here are witty set pieces, mock-ups of operatic aria, fake hymns, quasi-pompous marches and bar-room piano rolls, complete with swooping glissandi. Deliberately off-key, of course. Weill uses catchy tunes, so people hum along, hardly realizing they are singing something subversive. And thus Mahagonny insinuates itself into dance band music and pop song, so when people do hear the full Mahagonny, it's eerily familiar. Sentimental tunes for a decidedly unsentimental opera !

HK Gruber is perhaps the perfect conductor ! All his life he's specialized in uproariously manic satire and in the agitprop of the 1930's in particular. If you listen to nothing else of his, grab his recording
Roaring Eisler or the recent release of his own FRANKENSTEIN!!!! which I might write about later as there is nothing in this world quite like it. And Gruber is the great grandson of the guy who wrote Silent Night, Holy Night. He really understands the malevolence of Brecht and Weill. He gets punchy playing from the Royal Scottish Orchestra who probably still don't know what hit them ! But perhaps a less staid orchestra might have raised more sparks. Vocally, too, most of this was a bit polite.

Get the DVD of the LA Opera production for more distinctive singing and superlative acting by Patti LuPone and Audra Macdonald. Mahagonny and Los Angeles have a lot in common, which is uncomfortable and this could have been disturbing but what do you expect ? I can imagine the ghosts of Brecht and Weill snorting sardonically at the LA crowd spending big bucks on an anti-capitalist tirade. "There's nothing but today!" sings Jimmy as he's about to die. It's the good guys in Benares who get wiped while Mahagonny is saved, at least until it self-destructs.

Please see the other posts on Brecht, Weill, Eisler and Ernst Busch - click lables. This is my fach, and Busch my hero.

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