City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

International Festival Opening Concert: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny


By Iain Gilmour - Posted on 14 August 2008

Opening Concert        Photo: Caroline Douglas
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Venue: 
The Usher Hall
Company: 
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Conductor HK Gruber
Running time: 
180mins
Production: 
Kurt Weill (music), Bertholt Brecht (text)
Performers: 
Susan Bickley (Leokadja Begbick), Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Fatty), Alan Opie (Trinity Moses), Giselle Allen (Jenny Hill), Anthony Dean Griffey (Jim Mahoney), Peter Hoare (Jack Smith & Toby Higgins), Stephan Loges (Bill), Brindley Sherratt (Joe), Hannah Gordon (Narrator). Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Christopher Bell (chorus master), Girls Chorus from RSAMD

Festival
Director Jonathan Mills made a bold choice in opening his second festival with
this bitter satire on capitalism and decadent society - and one he is reported
to have had in mind since his appointment.

A
controversial work which caused uproar when first performed in Leipzig not long before the Nazis
came to power in Germany, it was banned immediately
when they did. All the scores were destroyed and it was thought the work was
lost forever, until the original score was found after the war.

Set
in America, but spun out of a hedonistic
pleasure-seeking European society, a new outing at a time of "credit crunch" for an opera with the blunt message that the only
real crime is to be penniless may seem peculiarly apt. A court scene in Act 3,
where Toby gets away with murder and Jim gets death for not having money to pay
for whiskey he drank, emphasises the crime.

Mahagonny contains some of Weill's finest music and this Festival first was well served
by the principals. It is extremely difficult today to put across a basically
Marxist message with any degree of intensity, especially when the singer is one
of a row fronted by music stands.

It
took time for enthusiastic conductor Gruber to extract the maximum performance
from Giselle Allen as the prostitute Jenny and authority from Susan Bickley as
her madam Begbick. Both roles were difficult, especially with the orchestral
accompaniment and, occasionally, intrusions.

The
RSNO itself performed admirably, possibly with some lapses in precision or
timing, though coping expertly with a score that covered musical styles ranging from honky-tonk jazz, through gentle
sweetness, to extremely strident brass.

Hannah
Gordon was an impeccable narrator, exact in timing and enunciation.

The
Festival Chorus were in fine voice, as were the RASMD girls, especially the one
who had one solo entrance - a shriek - and was rewarded with a celebratory kiss
from the conductor as he dashed among
the orchestra at the end congratulating individual players.

Despite
occasional comments among the departing audience that Mahagonny had been
somewhat sanitised and lacked sufficient bite, it was an excellent acclaimed
performance.

Concert: Aug 8, 2008

Copyright Iain
Gilmour August 2008.