Walking out of Weill

13 Mar

With hindsight, I just shouldn’t have booked to see The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the ROH on 10th March, but it was good cast and it’s a piece that I feel I ought to like, so I went. Why did I walk out at the interval (after Act I)? Let me count the reasons.

1. I think that I’m actually allergic to the opera. I’m certainly allergic to Brecht and I find the constant bashing over the head with the Message really irritating. I don’t demand sympathetic characters in an opera but I do think they should be interesting. An hour of these cardboard, witless stereotypes was quite enough. There are some beguiling tunes but not enough of them.

2. The ROH is too big. The only staging that has really got me interested in the piece was David Alden’s at Scottish Opera in the 1980s. I remember that, in the intimate theatre, in Newcastle cracking a massive punch and leaving you shocked in the end. Since I recall it beginning with Felicity Palmer as Begbick giving a cookery demonstration, I think that may have been more Alden than Brecht. My point is, however, that there needs to be an engagement with the audience and a closeness that, with the stage feeling miles away on the other side of the pit, did not happen here. Kurt Streit sang his heart out as Jimmy in his final number in Act I. I really couldn’t have cared less and was baffled as to the point of it.

3. I was annoyed from the start, Before the opera began they projected what seemed likely to be reasonably witty instructions/pieces of information onto the front cloth. Sitting on benches in the Stalls Circle, they were barely visible to me and, I would guess to most people sitting at the sides in Row B. Dear Royal Opera House – could you please ensure that Directors sit in the restricted view seats for rehearsals and aren’t allowed anywhere near the Stalls?

4. John Fulljames’s production generally was professionally enough done but without giving me any sense of excitement or interest or any reason why I should sit through this piece. It felt conventional and unchallenging.  Just because it uses projections and lorries on the stage, doesn’t make it interesting.  And it didn’t project, which hamstrung what looked like a really promising cast. But Anne Sophie von Otter missed the tough amorality of Begbick, Christine Rice didn’t do much to interest me as Jenny. Willard White seemed wasted.  Doing dialogue in a place this side is a tough challenge (even where, as here, it sounded to me as though it was amplified) and you felt the performances were dying as they crossed the pit.

5. I admire Mark Wigglesworth as a conductor but this struck me as too beautiful, too slow and without the sort of jagged excitement the show needs. It struck me that he loved it too much.  Orchestra and chorus were fine.

That was enough.  An early night called. I’m going to avoid this piece in the opera house in future.

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