Mahagonny Timely, Packs a Big Bang

by danielgoode

April 29, 2013 12:51:54 PM EDT

The Manhattan School of Music just finished a brilliant run of the Kurt Weill-Bertold Brecht, 1927 opera, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. Because largely of a NYTimes review, the last performance was mobbed at the former home of the Juilliard campus in Morningside Heights—a kind of old-fashioned infrastructure, worn, homey, but not technically up to legible super-titles in its Borden auditorium.

The Brecht homilies like “As you make your bed, you must lie in it,” the Weill melodic templates over and over, the needling orchestra textures with saxes in the mix, the big choral outbursts about eating, loving (sex), no help for anybody—all of this adds up to putting a nail in the coffin of neo-liberalism, capitalist triumphalism, and just plain developer-ized mega cities. Coming during our second-biggest depression, it was mythic and moving, sitting there in the audience. I don’t remember feeling this so profoundly when I first saw it in a Met production years ago.

So, the singers and orchestra were all students, and all terrific. We’re so lucky to have these young, almost-professionals in our midst. The problem still is with so much opera, the lumpishness and lack of movement in the bodies of fine singers. Choreographers know so much more about this than opera directors, so it seems: how to make those bodies “talk” whether singing or just “being” on stage. The constant ebb and flow of small ensembles and large panoramas was inelegant, probably part of the complex, many-times revised original by Brecht-Weill. The production needed both small and large movement concepts. Then there’s the matter of our visual culture: quick-cutting from the movies doesn’t work with the staging of real bodies. Sometimes the new tradition of filming operas for one-time presentation in movie theaters does some of what we want from opera. But it doesn’t solve live opera. I’m waiting and hoping.

Thumbnail review. April 29th.