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Posts Tagged ‘Brecht & Weill’

John Gay’s The Beggars Opera may be the first ever musical, written almost 300 years ago. Though called an opera, it was actually a satire on opera, set amongst ordinary folk, in stark contrast to opera’s loftier subjects and settings. It’s had many revivals, notably one at the Lyric Hammersmith nearly a century ago that ran for almost 1500 performances, and adaptations, the most famous of which is Brecht & Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Now Kneehigh have given it a modern setting in our corrupt new world.

The Peachum’s own a pilchard canning business. Mrs Peachum is the power behind the throne and daughter Polly keeps the books. They have a loyal servant, Filch. Mr Peachum hires Macheath to kill the mayor (and his dog!) so that he can take over (via a corrupt election). Much to the Peachum’s horror, Polly falls for, and gets pregnant by, Macheath, who has impregnated quite a few ladies, including Lucy Lockit, the daughter of the police chief (who is also in Peachum’s pay). As Mayor he changes the law so that Macheath can be hung, but things don’t always turn out as planned.

Charles Hazlewood’s new score is a cocktail of many musical styles, from references to Gay’s original to heavy metal and punk! The cast double up as musicians. The setting is a giant metal frame sitting inside the chamber of Shoreditch Town Hall, reminiscent of earlier Kneehigh shows like Don John. It’s good to see some new faces to Kneehigh, particularly Rina Fantina as a terrific Mrs Peachum, the ever wonderful Beverley Rudd as Lucy Lockit and Jack Shaloo as an excellent Filch, jailer and prostitute (very versatile!).

It was inventive and contained many of the Kneehigh trademarks. I thought the first half could do with a bit of tightening, and maybe editing, but overall it was Kneehigh back on form, doing what only they can do.

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Opera

A bumper month, with no less than five operas (well, six if you count a double-bill as 2!).

First up, another excellent double-bill at GSMD, this time an unusual pairing of Donizetti’s one-act operatic farce I Pazzi per Progetto, set in a psychiatric institute (!) and a rare and underrated but less manic Malcolm Arnold comic one-acter The Dancing Master. Production and performance standards were, as always, sky high with a stunning performance from Alison Langer and great contributions from Alison Rose, Szymon Wach and Lawrence Thackeray.

Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s opera of Alice in Wonderland was a real treat. Brilliantly staged by Netia jones behind and around the BBC SO on the Barbican Hall stage, with terrific projections, including Ralph Steadman’s caricatures, and excellent costumes, the adaptation darkened and deepened the work and the music was very imaginative and surprisingly accessible (for modern opera!). Rachele Gilmore was a magnificent Alice with outstanding support from Andrew Watts, Marie Arnet and Jane Henschel amongst others.

The Indian Queen is an unfinished semi-opera by Purcell set in pre-colonial and colonial Central America which director Peter Sellers has played with by adding music, dancing and dialogue to make it a rather overlong 3.5 hours. It has its moments (mostly musical) but he pushed it too far, particularly adding five ‘Mayan creation’ dances before it even starts. They’ve programmed eight performances at ENO and judging by the empty seats on the night we went, that’s 3 or 4 too many

Handel’s ‘opera’ Giove in Argo is actually a ‘mash-up’ of stuff from other operas, called a ‘pasticcio’. I didn’t enjoy the first act of the London Handel Festival production at the RCM’s Britten Theatre because the singing seemed tentative and the production dark and dull, but it picked up considerable in the following two acts. Overlong at 3h15m, but with some lovely music and some stunning singing by Galina Averina and Timothy Nelson and a spectacularly good chorus.

The Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny at Covent Garden may never have been, or will ever again be, sung and played as well, but somehow Brecht & Weill’s ‘opera’ doesn’t really belong there. The whole enterprise seems at odds with their ethos. It’s a satire that for me didn’t have enough bite in this production, though it’s fair to say that the rest of the audience seemed to be lapping it up. That said, the quality of the singers, chorus and orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth blew me away.

Classical Music

An evening of French music at the Barbican introduced me to two unheard pieces by Debussy and Faure and renewed my acquaintance with Durufle’s beautiful Requiem, which I haven’t heard in ages. Stand-in conductor Dave Hill did a grand job, with the LSO and LSC on fine form.

Contemporary Music

The Unthanks at the Roundhouse was short(ish) but sweet. I liked the line-up, which included string quartet and trumpet. The songs from the new album sounded great, if a bit samey (as they do on record), and a selection of old material responded well to new arrangements. In the end though, it’s the heavenly voices of the sisters which make them so unique. Gorgeous.

Art

Magnificent Obsessions at the Barbican Art Gallery was a fascinating exhibition built around the personal collections of 14 artists. You can see how their collectibles influenced their art, some of which is also showcased. My favourites included Martin Parr’s collection of old postcards and Andy Warhol’s kitsch cookie jars. Fascinating.

I tagged the Paris Pinacotheque Vienna Secession exhibition to a business trip and it was a superb review of the movement, though a bit cramped in their space. Lots of Klimt, but others I was less familiar with. A real treat.

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Sondheim does Brecht & Weill !

This early (36-year old) Sondheim show was only his third. It would be another six years before he’d produce his first great musical, Company (though the earlier A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was fun, I wouldn’t call it great).

He seemed to be finding his way, trying out things which would later become part of his unique style. It is clearly derivative of Brecht & Weill’s ‘political’  musicals with what seems to be tongue-in-cheek sniping at the then generic Broadway style.

It’s the story of a town mayor who ‘creates’ a miracle in an attempt to breathe life into the local economy. What follows is exploitation, corruption and oppression. There is a charming naivety to it, but in terms of plotting and story-telling, it’s all a bit clumsy. There’s little of the lyrical inventiveness or musical originality which Sondheim was soon to deliver.

Tom Littler’s production makes the best of the material and the cast of 14 double up as musicians in the John Doyle way. I was particularly impressed by Roslaie Craig as the nurse, but felt that Issy van Randwyck was too doll-like as the Mayoress.

It’s an excellent contribution to Sondheim’s 80th year, as a rare opportunity for fans / completists / collectors like me to see the development of someone who was to become the greatest writer of musicals, rather than as a great musical itself.

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