Monday, February 26, 2007

Mahagonny Mutant

A few years ago I feel in love with a wacky opera from the early 1930s called The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. A cynical spoof about greed and disillusionment. The characters are shameless bastards, driven by pleasure and money*. Several self destruct. One is excecuted because he can't bay his bar tab. His friends, while sentimental , won't lend a dime to save him. A murderer bribes his way into a "not guilty" verdict. Stuff like that. It has a crass and cartoony element that keeps it from being too preachy or depressing- but it does make one think about the ugly side of human nature.
A two minute clip can be found here. Note the "Seek the truth and ye shall be dissapointed" sign.
In 2005 I bought the cd and played it over and over. In time it became my own personal soundtrack, associating songs and musical passages with things happening in my life. When I discovered the Los Angeles Opera was producing it, I was over the green moon. My parents and I catch a few operas each year, and I told them they just had to see this one!
I waited over a year for it. Yesterday we went.
The opera house was packed. The orchestra started. I couldn't' believe it. I was really here! I was seeing my favorite show. My show!
I watched the first act like a giddy kid in a fun house ride. They'd done a good job! Singing, staging, acting, costumes, casting.
"So howdja like it?" I asked my folks, at intermission.
"It's okay," my mom sighed, "I hope the second act is better"
"Me too," said Dad.
As the lights dimmed for the second act, I noticed conspicuous clusters of empty seats. People had walked out! Were they crazy?
Maybe I was the crazy one. The cackles at the funny parts came from sparse corners of the audience, including a few souls behind me that were having fun. Everyone else stared in silence.
My mom kept up the "is it over yet?" nudges. I tapped her at the final note and she clapped with enthusiasm.
"You liked it?" I asked.
"No!" she said. "I'm glad it's over!"
"Yeah," Dad added. "I was about to climb up on stage and kill the protagonist myself. I don't usually agree with the Nazis but I'm with them on banning this! I couldn't wait for it to end"
"The people behind me liked it," I said,
Mom disagreed. "They probably were just pretending to like it, to look sophisticated."
I felt like a mutant. How come I fell in love with a show that most people disliked, if not hated.
Why was I so out of step with everyone?
If anyone out there likes this show let me know. We can form a support group.

*I don't buy into the "capitalism = bad" notion that this show hints at, but agree that people
can be greedy jerks, using the system to cheat and exploit others.


scottydude said...

I like this show!! I was surprised at how shocking and cynical it was (and very funny), but it really appeals to my twisted sensibility! :)

What's the best recording of Mahagonny?

(thanks for commenting on my blog)

Namowal said...

Thanks, Scottydude!
My personal favorate recording (of the two I'm familiar with)
is the cd released by Capriccio in 1993. It has, in my opinion, the best over all vocals and doesn't have the the Crane Duet, which was added later to the show and, in my opinion, slows it down.
You may also like the Sony version. It features Lotte Lenya, who was the most famous Jenny (and Weil's wife). The problem here is Lenya's voice had grown much deeper* by the time this was recorded and had to sing the role in a MUCH lower key. She does give it character, however. Crane Duet Included.

*Wikipedia suggests it was always deeper, but they're wrong.

Namowal said...

I forgot to add, both recordings are in German. The Capriccio version comes with a booklet and an a libretto, including the English translation