Theatre & Arts

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Brecht & Weill's subversive opera gets Rough Magic

Review: The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Olympia Theatre, Dublin

John McKeown

Published 17/06/2014|00:07

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Claudia Boyle in The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny

Orchestra of Ireland is in the stalls, there's audience seated on the stage, while the pleasure-seekers of the city of Mahagonny come and go, drape themselves in the boxes, and consort all over the place. Rough Magic director Lynne Parker subverts the seating arrangements and scatters the cast in homage to Brecht and Weill's subversive approach to opera.

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It's occasionally effective. The male chorus, addressing their bass and tenor voices to the protagonists onstage from up in the the first and second circles are thrillingly ominous, while Jenny's Girls, draped in the theatre's boxes create appropriately burlesque effects. The freeflow of the cast around the space works particularly well in the second and third acts, after the typhoon which threatens the sybaritic city has passed, and its denizens abandon themselves to the pleasures of Eating, Drinking, Getting Laid and Fighting.

This is a co-production between Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company, but it's overwhelmingly the operatic rather than the theatrical element that predominates. Apart from rearranging the space, Parker sets the story in the theatre itself, rather than using the theatre to create the city. With nothing to suggest Mahagonny, there's less context for the characters and the story itself is diminished. The singing has to carry it all. Fortunately, the cast is up to the job.

Julian Hubbard is Jimmy, the leader of the lumberjacks who settle in the city hoping for peace and pleasure, and Hubbard's fine tenor imparts both Jimmy's initial elation and his later disappointment. John Molloy's baritone is chillingly expressive as Trinity Moses, one of the three gangsters who establish the deceptively accommodating city, while Anne-Marie Gibbons' mezzo-soprano increases the amoral iciness as the gang boss Begbick.

Claudia Boyle is the embodiment of all the pleasure the city offers as Jenny the prostitute. Her shapely soprano is the perfect match for Hubbard's tenor when she persuades Jimmy to choose her in ‘Havana Song’. But it's the crystalline purity of her beautiful ‘Alabama Song,' full of languid bitter-sweet fatefulness, which is the outstanding number.

The orchestra, exquisitely conducted by David Brophy, exhales Weill's unique and instantly recognisable music with every breath, pluck, key pressure and touch of timpani.

The opera's subversiveness fails to materialise, however. It may have been Rough Magic-ed, but for what is a satirical parable on the evils of capitalism and a deflation of the pomposity of classical opera it sounds as traditional as anything at Covent Garden.

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