Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny: A sparky production by the Royal Opera House

The first act was leaden, but the rest went like wildfire

Michael Church
Wednesday 11 March 2015 10:16 GMT
Christine Rice as Jenny, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Christine Rice as Jenny, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

John Fulljames’s production of Mahagonny makes the most of the irony that this Brecht-Weill assault on capitalism should be staged in Britain’s most bank-rolled opera house, with self-mocking slogans flashed up thick and fast.

And he’s turned the lorry out of which the criminals initially tumble into a leitmotiv suggesting clandestine migrations in 2015: this resonates ever more powerfully as the evening progresses. The hedonistic city which the criminals establish is nowhere if not Bangkok, where the inhabitants debauch themselves on the slopes of a gaudily-lit ziggurat of sea-containers. Meanwhile this Mahagonny is threatened not by a hurricane but by climate-change – more neat and justifiable updating.

Yet the first act is leaden - thanks partly to the fact that neither Anne Sofie von Otter nor Willard White seem comfortable in their roles as Begbick and Moses, and partly to the mismatch between Brecht’s crude didacticism and Weill’s subtle and allusive music. But once ‘everything is permitted’ the drama goes like wildfire, with Christine Rice’s voraciously voluptuous Jenny and Kurt Streit’s sweetly sacrificial Jimmy sung and acted with compelling authority.

The chorus are on brilliant form, the dancers are directed with sly wit, and in the pit Mark Wigglesworth brings out all the shifting moods and colours of the score. An uneven work, and an uneven show, but with plenty of things to enjoy.

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