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Weill: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny / Conlon, McDonald, LuPone

Weill / Brecht / Mcdonald / Lupone / Lao / Conlon
Release Date: 12/11/2007 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2056258  
Composer:  Kurt Weill
Performer:  Derek TaylorSteven HumesDonnie Ray AlbertJohn Easterlin,   ... 
Conductor:  James Conlon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Opera ChorusLos Angeles Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Jenny Smith (Jenny Hill) – Audra McDonald
Leocadia Begbick – Patti LuPone
Jimmy McIntyre (Jim Mahoney) – Anthony Dean Griffey
Fatty the Bookkeeper – Robert Wörle
Trinity Moses –Donnie Ray Albert
Jack O’Brien – John Easterlin
Bank Account Bill –
Read more Mel Ulrich
Alaska Wolf Joe – Steven Humes
Toby Higgins – Derek Taylor

Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1 · DTS 5.1 Region Code: 0 (all)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet Notes: English, German, French
Running Time: 133 mins + 22 mins Bonus
Bonus feature: “James Conlon on Mahagonny”

R E V I E W:

Outstanding is Audra McDonald as Jenny Smith.

Bertolt Brecht had a thing for writing in pseudo-English, as if by using an artificial persona, he could express things more archly than he could in straightforward German. He uses the exotic as a kind of armour: when the exotic becomes naturalistic, something gets lost. This production of The Rise and fall of Mahagonny comes from Los Angeles, where it received much acclaim. It’s in English, and firmly set in a composite “America” where Gold Rush types mix with Florida speculators. It throws in the Benares Song for good measure, though it has little to do with America and even less to do with Benares in India.
It’s set in English which means a few changes. Jimmy Mahoney becomes “Jimmy Macintyre” which fits better with the way Weill stress the first syllable. So there’s a slight loss in surreality, but major gains in the way the opera communicates to modern audiences. The parallels between Los Angeles and Mahagonny are uncomfortably close, which cannot possibly have been lost on the audience. The set and costumes could be straight out of Hollywood movies, so rather pretty and sentimentalised, but Hollywood itself is surreal, so it’s appropriate. The voice of the narrator comes over a PA machine like something in a prison yard, which is an insight.

Conlon conducts the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra with a tense edginess that compensates for whatever is lost in translation into English. This throws more emphasis on the musical ideas, which is not a bad thing at all. Weill’s contribution to the Brecht/Weill partnership is often underestimated, and Weill is more inventive musically than he’s often given credit for. Here are witty set-pieces, mock-ups of operatic aria and popular tunes, quasi-pompous marches and bar-room piano rolls, complete with swooping glissandi. Deliberately out of tune, of course.

Outstanding is Audra McDonald as Jenny Smith, the good-time girl whose relationship with Jimmy Macintyre defines the plot. She’s a remarkably good actress, her personality lighting up the screen. She moves like a panther, hunting in the jungle, for a jungle is what Mahagonny is, full of hidden treachery. Against this the miners from Alaska have no defence. Anthony Dean Griffey is convincing as Jimmy Macintyre, at once tender and perplexed in equal doses, a surprisingly vulnerable Jimmy one can sympathise with When he gets an unfair trial and faces execution, his resignation is quite touching. Patti LuPone as the brothel-owner and founder of Mahagonny is costumed like a drag queen, but overcomes stereotypes - whatever they may mean - by a performance of surprising dignity, despite the venality of her character. This again adds to the role.

The ensemble work is very tight, which keeps the pace moving swiftly – all credit to the LA chorus and whoever trained them. Crowd scenes are important in this orchestra, for they represent both “the masses” and monolithic power against which individuals have no control. Thus the line of mobsters, lit starkly from behind was very menacing: they are the enforcers but what they enforce is unsavoury. Everything in Mahagonny is parasitic, people strangle each other to survive. So the tightness of the smaller ensemble songs is well judged, so the voices entwine like unhealthy tendrils.

“In this world you must make your own bed, and no-one will show you the trick” sing both Jimmy and Jenny in different contexts, so why not an English adaptation? For political reasons, Brecht would have approved the vernacular because it reaches audiences more directly. That’s why Weill uses popular song, so people hum along, hardly realising they are singing something subversive. No wonder extracts like The Alabama Song and the Benares Song have made us “familiar” with Mahagonny though full recordings are few. This DVD is therefore an excellent introduction and enjoyable on those terms.

-- Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny by Kurt Weill
Performer:  Derek Taylor (Voice), Steven Humes (Bass), Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone),
John Easterlin (Voice), Mel Ulrich (Baritone), Robert Wörle (Tenor),
Patti LuPone (Voice), Audra McDonald (Soprano), Anthony Dean Griffey (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Conlon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Opera Chorus,  Los Angeles Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 3/2007 
Venue:  Live Los Angeles Opera House 

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