Due to the mixed forces of Melbourne Opera and IOpera, a second Kurt Weill/ Berthold Brecht collaboration has now been offered to Melbourne audiences inside a month. A few of those that attended Victorian Opera’s manufacturing of Joyful Finish puzzled whether or not this work may actually be categorised as an opera; within the case of The Rise and Fall of the Metropolis of Mahagonny no such query arose.
As rehearsals had been underway for the unique manufacturing, premiered in Weimar Republic Leipzig in March 1930, Weill wrote: “The work we intend to provide just isn’t going to make use of up to date materials that shall be old-fashioned in a yr’s time however units out to current our age in a definitive type. Its affect will thus prolong far past the second wherein it’s written”. It’s 40 years since this masterpiece of twentieth century opera has been given a serious Australian manufacturing, enabling at present’s audiences to guage its relevance. Are we dwelling in our personal model of Mahagonny – a metropolis the place poverty attracts a loss of life penalty, a society the place self-indulgence and consumerism are the order of the day?
The style wherein Melbourne Opera’s manufacturing is framed means that we’d properly be. Video artist Chris Hocking has devised materials in line with Brecht’s theatrical fashion of alienation, shifting between the scratched film reel sequences such because the opening title, cartoon animation and actual life footage of current disasters, the place nature and man collectively collectively have prompted untold harm. The start of the Act II was expertly dealt with as a climate map video graphically traced the course of a hurricane heading in the direction of Mahagonny through the orchestral introduction.
Suzanne Chaundy’s ingenious route (and presumably set design, since a separate set designer just isn’t listed on this system) is coherently built-in into this method. Props had been rapidly whisked off the stage in between the 20 scenes that comprise this three-act opera, with a reasonably shabby whitish drop curtain – in step with “poor theatre” manufacturing values – hiding many stage resets. The primary reveal, following a cartoon video of the journey of the three criminals on the run, made little try to indicate an actual automotive. As an alternative, it was a automotive at one take away from actuality with any try to repair it cartoonishly inept. Stranded within the desert, the trio of Leokadja Begbick (Liane Keegan), Trinity Moses (Christopher Hillier) and Fatty “The Procurer” (Robert Macfarlane) improbably agreed to determine “town of nets”: Mahagonny.
There was nothing inept concerning the singing although; all three gave robust performances dramatically and vocally. Exaggerated physicality, particularly on the a part of Macfarlane, added to the sense that they had been reveling within the excesses of their creation. Along with being a fantastic tenor, Macfarlane demonstrated some talent on the banjo as he and Joe Chindamo on accordion accompanied the confronting scene the place lumberjack Jack O’Brien (Fraser Findlay) eats himself to loss of life as a part of extreme, however in the end unfulfilling, consumption after the hurricane menace has handed. Regardless of his naturally small physique, applicable costuming and expressive singing made this an horrifically compelling second. It was a far cry from the doorway of the 4 cashed-up lumberjacks – Jimmy McIntyre (James Egglestone), “Financial institution Account” Billy (Christopher Tonkin), “Alaska Wolf” Joe and O’Brien – drawn to the pleasures of Mahagonny. Individually and as a quartet, they had been very good. Within the central position of Jimmy, Egglestone captured the anger and pathos of a personality, who tries to like whereas loathing a system that ultimately condemns him to loss of life by the circus of a corrupt kangaroo courtroom. The crime of not having cash to pay a debt is taken into account a lot worse than killing someone, particularly in case you can bribe the decide, specifically Begbick, and her affiliate Moses.
Aside from his associates for whom he feels a particular bond stemming from seven years of laborious, chilly labour in Alaska, Jimmy’s affections centre on Jenny Hill (Antoinette Halloran), one of many prostitutes drawn to town. Within the occasion, each Billy and Jenny betray him in his hour of want and his destiny turns into a sort of parody of Christ’s ardour. No matter ambiguities there may be within the character of Jimmy, Egglestone’s efficiency was merely excellent. It’s a tough position that requires a powerful vocal method, a excessive diploma of musicality and a large emotional vary – all of which Egglestone possesses. It’s tempting to say that it’s price seeing this manufacturing only for his efficiency, however this would possibly indicate that different performances and the work as a complete are much less worthy, however that is removed from being the case.
Halloran’s interpretation emphasised the duplicitous nature of Jenny, notably in her eagerness to desert Jimmy for a now slicker, extra self-interested Billy, sung with admirable vitality by Tonkin. It was concurrently amusing and horrible. Blessed with voluptuous bodily magnificence, Halloran was a figuring out Jenny, giving the viewers a conspiratorial wink as she used her charms within the pursuit of non-public achieve – or maybe a matter of survival? Her robust soprano was properly projected and he or she took care that the textual content as clear as attainable. The well-known “Alabama” track was delivered with sensuous attract.
The younger singers forming the group of six prostitutes had been vocally spot on and offered precisely the array of attributes interesting to all tastes – unique, curvaceous or child-like – alluded to within the libretto. “Poor theatre” appeared to fade as Mahagonny turned briefly extra prosperous and the women had been decked out in Jason Chalmers’ engaging costumes. The MO Refrain was in fantastic type, particularly within the chorale sections.
Peter Tregear drew spectacular enjoying from the orchestra – fashionable and crisp. Joe Chindamo’s onstage appearances included a suitably sentimental piano spotlight (happily he wasn’t shot as within the Opera Australia manufacturing) and there was some stirring work from the trumpets. Though all singers had been clearly eager to ship glorious diction, it sometimes required an actual effort to listen to the textual content clearly by a full orchestral sound. Surtitles may need been a good suggestion however may have been a distraction from what’s an excellent manufacturing.
It’s on so many ranges a manufacturing to not be missed.
Picture courtesy Melbourne Opera
Heather Leviston reviewed Opera Melbourne’s manufacturing of “The Rise and Fall of the Metropolis of Mahagonny”, offered on the Athenaeum Theatre on May1, 2022.