Opera North continues to champion the musicals of Kurt Weill with Arms and the Cow, not heard here since its London premiere in 1935. On the Caribbean island of Santa Maria, amid a pop-up jungle design, Juan and Juanita sing of their future happiness. But a dark political strand runs parallel; the dozy president (Jeffrey Lawton) is bribed into taking weapons by an unprincipled American dealer hoping to start an arms race between impoverished neighbouring countries.
When the young couple's precious cow is brutally confiscated in lieu of contributions to the new armament tax, their wedding has to be postponed. In desperation, Juan turns to the army, Juanita to prostitution.
Der Kuhhandel - the original German title, implying a more sinister deal than cattle-trading - has been considerably beefed up by the director David Pountney, with the co-librettist Jeremy Sams. Moderately entertaining in its absurd storyline and in the antics of an excellent cast, the operetta strives just a little too hard to be funny. Weill's satire sags under the weight.
The flimsy plot offers countless opportunities to take topical potshots, in new dialogue, at WMDs, sleazy politicos,dictatorships, spin doctors, unscrupulous businessmen and the Iraq war. Some of the narrative liberties seem forced - and is the defecating Friesian trundled on to the stage commenting on the show or the subject matter?
Mary Plazas and Leonardo Capalbo are good as the young lovers who find themselves taking on the state and emerging victorious. Beverley Klein is a sassy, razor-sharp Madame and, as the General, Donald Maxwell is a dark-toned caricature of Goering, or Pinochet perhaps. His laddish aide Ximenes (Robert Burt) could have been modelled on Alastair Campbell, though Weill saw him as a Goebbels figure.
The conductor James Holmes stylishly unfolds the shifting moods of a score made up of rather stilted Offenbach-style numbers, snatches of Latin dance rhythms, a touch of Gilbert and Sullivan in the choruses and a tantalising hint of Weill's later big hit "September Song". No one puts a foot wrong in the dance routines, from the high-stepping whores to the jerky stormtroopers sequence, flashily choreographed by the Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood.
Touring to Nottingham, Norwich, Salford, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield and Aberdeen ( www.operanorth.co.uk)Reuse content