[Met Performance] CID:259680

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, November 27, 1979 Telecast

In English

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (4)
Kurt Weill | Bertolt Brecht
Teresa Stratas

Jimmy Mahoney
Richard Cassilly

Leocadia Begbick
Astrid Varnay

Trinity Moses
Cornell MacNeil

Ragnar Ulfung

Jacob Schmidt
Arturo Sergi

Moneybags Billy
Vern Shinall

Alaska Wolf Joe
Paul Plishka

Toby Higgins
Michael Best

Klara Barlow

Nedda Casei

Gwynn Cornell

Joann Grillo

Isola Jones

Louise Wohlafka

Nico Castel

James Levine

TV Director
Brian Large

Telecast: Live from the Met
Available for streaming at Met Opera on Demand

Review 1:

Review of Audrey LeLash in The News World

With the unveiling of its version of Kurt Weill's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" as the second of its season's new productions, the Metropolitan Opera's artistic administration is batting 1,000. There were no doubts as to the work's validity as a theater piece - the only questions were: Was it an opera? and Would it work in the big house?

After last Saturday's third performance and first matinee, the answer to both queries is a resounding "Yes!" and my advice to any lover of music theater is to filch a ticket from a subscriber. The remaining eight performances are sold out, according to the Met press department, although I noted several empty seats on Saturday, belonging, no doubt, to traditionalist patrons.

"Mahagonny" is a modern morality play, set firmly in the Isherwood era of pre-Nazi Berlin, but, like any enduring work of art, it transcends its time. Three anarchists found a city amid a European's dream of Florida - the town of Mahagonny, city of nets, where anything goes and people are trapped by their own selfish desires.

"Yet, something is missing," as the hero, Jimmy Mahoney, reiterates. The "something" is emotion, which is equated with good throughout. Money is the villain, and it is the lack of money which is the one unforgivable sin against society, and which ultimately leads Jimmy to his death in the electric chair.

It is easy to see a Marxist message here, but Weill and his librettist, famed playwright Bertold Brecht, had rejected orthodox communism, and the opera's chief weakness is its totally negative conclusion, which exalts nihilism as the only solution to the human dilemma - all other solutions cancel each other out.

But before that there is much marvelous music and stunning theater. Weill's music is firmly rooted in Bach (the Typhoon fugue) and Mozart (the popular elements and the chorale in the same scene), combined with jazz and blues idiom of his own time, with touches of Hindemith and Berg, bits of bitonality, and pungent instrumentation, featuring two plaintive saxophones and a cabaret piano.

James Levine conducted with almost unbearable tension when necessary, rendering the top numbers such as "Moon of Alabama" and "Benares" in a suitably relaxed manner - yet another instance of his musical growth and versatility. John Dexter's direction was usually brilliant and always innovative, and Jocelyn Herbert's decadent and gaudy sets and costumes with imaginative use of projections, were beyond praise.

Only the finale, in which the placard-carrying chorus parades up the aisles, seemed a bit excessive, and the beautiful love duet might have been staged more imaginatively to highlight its function as a point of lyric repose. Using projections instead of a narrator works beautifully, and the English translation, credited to David Drew and Michael Geliot, is a model for such endeavors, if we subscribe to the pious fiction that English is intelligible in an opera house with its trained voices and immense orchestra pit. Perhaps in future years the original German will be employed, since "Carmelites" is scheduled to revert to the original French.

That remarkable singing actress Teresa Stratas, replete with her usual charisma, scores yet another triumph as Jenny, as does Richard Cassily as Jimmy. The physical contrast between petite soprano and bulky tenor adds immeasurably to the effect of their impossible romance, which is doomed to tragedy from the outset.

The rest of the cast is equally effective, with special mention to Cornell MacNeill (Trinity Moses), Ragnar Ulfung (Fatty), Paul Plishka (Alaskawolf Joe), and Arturo Segri (Schmidt). Casting the renowned Astrid Varnay as the Widow Begbick was an unhappy stroke; her once vital voice has all but vanished, and her overstated portrayal is a travesty to those who cherish her memory in Wagnerian roles. Six of the Met's more decorative young sopranos and mezzos made a memorable troupe of prostitutes, amusingly costumed.

"Mahagonny" is a trenchant and outrageous piece of theater, full of unforgettable music, a boon to those who yearn for something different at the Met. No one interested in opera or any for of musical theater should even consider missing it.

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