The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (ROH, 12 March 2015)

The greatest crime of all is not having money.

Thursday’s Something Else. This is a goodlooking production of an opera with an ethos right up my alley (death to consumerism!), thus what I enjoyed best was the libretto. Still, coming on 100 years there’s room for subtlety.

The good news is opera crews are starting to get the hang of cleverly using video projections. In this one they fit the film noir feel and were never superfluous. But musically I snoozed through the end of act I (so much for the approaching hurricane), enjoyed some stuff (most of the things Jenny sung) and was more or less indifferent to the rest.

Leocadia Begbick: Anne Sofie von Otter
Fatty: Peter Hoare
Trinity Moses: Willard W. White
Jenny: Christine Rice
Jimmy McIntyre: Kurt Streit
Jack O’Brien: Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Bank-Account Bill: Darren Jeffrey
Alaska Wolf Joe: Neal Davies
Toby Higgins: Hubert Francis
Narrator: Paterson Joseph
Bar pianist: Robert Clark
Six girls: Anna Burford, Lauren Fagan, Anush Hovhannisyan, Stephanie Marshall, Meeta Raval, Harriet Williams
Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth | Royal Opera Chorus | Orchestra of the ROH

I know I’m biased towards classical opera but with von Otter, White, Rice and Streit somehow the material didn’t bring out the best in any of them save for Rice. If she sounded sweet but didn’t outshine Alcina and Ruggiero in October’s Barbican Alcina, Rice simply soared here to the point I started thinking I should see her in more 20th century stuff (if she does more of it). Either she really enjoyed Jenny the tough hooker/unsentimental survivor and/or the writing suited her voice, she was the best thing in it for me.

The best acting belonged to von Otter’s dead-on cynical gang leader but I found the endless passaggio writing terribly grating. I ended up wanting her to keep speaking instead of singing. White’s tone was gorgeous but he barely had anything to sing. Streit had a similar problem as von Otter. As I mentioned in the La Monnaie Tito, the man looks fine and is so sprightly you want directors to keep him busy.

(overheard just before the performance)
Middle aged man with stalls seat: Look, Kurt Shtreit’s in it. Or is that Str-ah-it?

(during the intermission)
Older lady: Who’s singing Jimmy?
American lady: Kurt Streit.
Older lady: Oh, a Mozartian. Beautiful tone.

He does at best (in Mozart) have a beautiful tone, although you blinked and you missed it here. After this all I could think of was Jimmy McTamino every time KS opened his mouth. The Joe Elliot wig, everyman costume and the constant passaggio singing made it feel like he’s jumped out of an ’80s hair metal video. I suppose Jimmy is a Tamino of sorts though Jenny is definitely no Pamina.

Either I was taking myself too seriously or the audience seemed even more middle class than usual – if that’s possible at ROH (apparently my last outing there was last November’s Idomeneo so maybe I’ve forgotten). Whilst passing through the restaurant bit during the interval I caught a few glances at people dressed to the nines dining on overpriced sandwiches passing as hors d’oeuvres and wondered how many in the audience were buy-to-let landlords… Interestingly, it’s sold out with under 10 tickets left for the last performance.

The production idea is as straight forward as the libretto: during the overture there’s a projection of a vehicle speeding down a road at night. Occasionally it passes by Wanted posters of Widow Begbick, Trinity Moses and Fatty. As the opera starts, their lorry has broken down in the desert. The initial location of their newly founded mirage city is in the back of the lorry. As the city grows, the stage gets filled with shipping containers: a world of goods. It works, it’s coherent and colourful though hardly edgy.

For a scathing review (and relevant pictures) check this out. I partially agree with the blogger’s view: yes, there’s nothing here (paraphrasing one of Jimmy’s lines). But that’s the curse of all 20th century art. What’s there actually in an Andy Warhol work? Why should we give a damn about a can of soup? The way I see it, it’s a capitulation. We’ve been living in a world in dire need of an essential change for a long time now. The past 100 years seems to me like a slow, very reluctant letting go of old mentalities coupled with a lot of plundering of resources (as if there’s no tomorrow). Who knows, maybe I’m talking bollocks.

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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on March 13, 2015, in 20th century, live performances, royal opera house and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Stephen Jay Taylor (blogger of opera britannia) is noted for his devastating scathing reviews, often humourous. His review made me pleased that I didn’t bother to go. Re: 20thC art, now 21st C, one could easily say: “oh, we’re at peak art” and that its here, and no further, nowhere to go. But I bet people thought that in 1913 before Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce smashed onto the scene. The Age of Exhaustion. There are some 20thC gems though. Give it another 40 years and the cream will have risen to the top (maybe) and we’ll lionise musical/opera A whilst never recalling pop artist B, book C. Maybe.

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    • There are some gems, it’s true, but I do think generally speaking the world/society is recreating itself in ways that are removed from our past and it’ll be a while until it gels into something truly fine.

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  2. Since we’re grousing about Jeremy Sams up in the next post, what did you think of the translation?

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