Review: Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny / Staatsoper Stuttgart

Staatsoper, Stuttgart, 11 May 2024

Kurt Weill: Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Asked by the committee of the 1927 Baden-Baden Music Festival to write a one-act chamber opera for the festival, Kurt Weill ended up writing Mahagonny-Songspiel, sometimes known as Das kleine Mahagonny. Weill then continued to develop the material into a full opera, with Bertolt Brecht working on the libretto, until the work, now known as Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), was completed and finally premiered in Leipzig in 1930. The opera is a satirical depiction of a fictional city built on the principles of social decadence, unbridled capitalism and the pursuit of hedonism. Through a fusion of Weill’s innovative music and Brecht’s biting libretto, the audience is transported to a realm where morality is blurred and the consequences of excess are starkly revealed.

Now at the Stuttgart State Opera, director Ulrike Schwab and her team have returned to Brecht’s theatrical concept, with the famous ‘Brecht curtain’ dominating the entire set (Pia Dederichs & Lena Schmid). Schwab’s production is certainly creative, allowing the characters the freedom to blossom, involving the conductor on stage in a most unusual way and giving the opera a personal touch. Visually, however, it is extremely overloaded, there are so many elements, so many colours, and so much that the team wants to show and tell that it somehow feels rather pointless, and there is no clear common line from beginning to end. And in the end, the hurricane is awaited with great hope rather than fear – does doom mean redemption?

Photo: Martin Sigmund

Musically, the performance is on an acceptable level, although Cornelius Meister did not take any huge (musical) risks and did not make anything special out of the score. On the other hand, having the orchestra behind the action, without much direct contact with the singers and chorus, and sometimes having to rush onto the stage – once as a pianist! – is not an easy task either. The vocal performances of the main roles are difficult to judge: Alisa Kolosova (Leokadja Begbick), Ida Ränzlöv (Jenny Hill) and Kai Kluge (Jim Mahoney) give excellent acting performances with lots of energy and verve, but I never felt that they had the ideal voices or singing style for this kind of opera – they all sang well technically, but in a way too “pure” operatic fashion. Weill’s music is characterised by its fusion of different genres, classical opera with jazz and cabaret, and this requires a much more eclectic style of singing.

Photo: Martin Sigmund

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