Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Weill - Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny|
Actors: Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Anthony Dean Griffey, James Conlon, Robert Worle
Director: John Doyle
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Follows the lives of the inhabitants of the Old West town of Mahagonny where sin is accepted and poverty is a crime.
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Fine musical performance marred by stagnant stage production
F. A. Harrington | Boston MA | 01/06/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This 2007 LA Opera production of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's 1931 Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny gets a fine musical performance (led by James Conlon), but the stage production falls short and is often frustratingly stagnant. Many numbers are given with the performers seated on stage (a particular peeve of mine I'll admit) or standing in a line across the stage facing the audience, often without interaction between the characters. In one scene two characters reminisce about their friendship. The music suggests intimacy yet the singers not only don't address each other but are also many feet apart on stage with the chorus standing between them.
In a work that straddles the worlds of opera and musical theater, it's not surprising that the strongest and most fully rounded performances come from the two Broadway stars in the cast. Audra McDonald in particular throws herself into the part of Jenny, the leader of Mahagonny's prostitutes, giving a provocative performance that a star of her stature could easily have avoided. Her singing, which I've often found too overpowering for her material, here fits nicely. Patti LuPone also does well as Leocadia Begbick, one of the band of fugitives who found the city providing recreation and entertainment for gold miners out in the middle of nowhere ("It's easier getting gold out of men then out of rivers" she says). Overall the rest of the cast sings well, but delivers spoken dialogue stiffly.
As I've said, the musical performance is first rate. Weill's score lies somewhere between Stravinsky and Gershwin, always tuneful, yet rhythmically active and harmonically pungent. Conlon delivers this in the present tense, without making it sound like a retro-recreation of Weimar Republic era sounds. My only criticism is that the chorus is sometimes unintelligible which, combined with the lack of English subtitles, can make the plot a bit hard to follow at times. Otherwise, considering the short supply of available recordings of this work (especially in English) I would recommend it to listen to with the video turned off.
New Take on an Old Classic
Dean R. Brierly | Studio City, CA | 01/02/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I've long been a fan of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht opera "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny." In particular, I love the mid-1950s recording featuring Weill's wife Lotte Lenya in the lead role of Jenny. And I've always felt that this musical opus--a radical conjunction of opera, jazz, musical theater and political agit-prop--is best served by actors who sing rather than singers who act. Lenya's unorthodox vocals, simultaneously harsh and tender, fits this work to a T, especially since the musical numbers are closer to popular song than traditional operatic arias. Like Weill and Brecht's "Threepenny Opera," "Mahagonny" is a fierce critique of capitalism conveyed in irresistible, jazzy melodies. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I approached this DVD of a live 2007 performance of "Mahagonny" by the Los Angeles Opera starring noted singers Patti Lupone and Audra McDonald. This new production follows the storyline closely, but adopts a chronological progression that brings the action into the present in an attempt to make the work more relevant and accessible to modern audiences. I found this a little jarring at first, then decided it simply provided another level of aesthetic disconnection that's perfectly in tune with Brecht's famous alienation effect (i.e., self-consciously stressing the formal artificiality of a work so that audiences can engage more directly with its content). The staging, costumes and sets are impressive, and the performances suitably stylized and impassioned. Lupone is excellent as the amoral brothel owner whose vision of greed inspires the rise of the city of Mahagonny. As the prostitute Jenny, McDonald adroitly blends eroticism, tenderness and mercenary self-interest. The male performers are less vibrant, with the exception of Anthony Dean Griffey as Jimmy, the opera's sacrificial lamb who pays the ultimate price for having committed the ultimate crime: poverty. The musical arrangements of Weill's tunes are perhaps the production's weakest element, lacking the brio and emotional shading necessary to make the numbers truly come alive. And having the songs sung in English, while understandable, lessens the sardonic character of the German version. These criticisms aside, the performance captured on this DVD is an ambitious and welcome variation of this timeworn classic, one whose many positives make up for its few imperfections."
GaryTucson | Utah | 01/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a masterful production of an incredibly dark and dissonant 'opera.' I put the quotes around opera because this is not your typical opera by any stretch of the imagination. The sets are purposefully minimal, the casting is purposefully odd, the orchestration is purposefully dissonant, the music and tone are purposefully haunting and the singing is incredible!
No one would believe that Jenny could fall for Jimmy. No one would believe that anyone would want to live in Mahagonny. No one would believe that anyone would have such disloyal friends as Jimmy after being together for so many years. But believable or not, it works. However, this is not your father's Rigoletto! If you are considering this item because you like opera you may not be pleased with your purchase. As already mentioned by another reviewer, the 20 minute conversation with the conductor on the DVD is invaluable. He clearly explains that the geniuses behind this masterpiece didn't write an `opera' that they intended for the audience to experience with their hearts. They wrote a biting commentary on the ills of society and the banality of human existence that they wanted us to experience from a distance with our heads.
It is dark, dissonant, minimalist and not at all uplifting, but it is masterful musical theater and the lead performers are all at the peak of their game and perfectly fit their various roles in this disharmonious stab at human existence and society's ill placed priorities.
I was blown away by this production and would have awarded it five stars but for the lack of libretto in the liner notes and/or English subtitles on the DVD.