Opera banned by Nazis takes aim at cafe society
‘THE Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ marks a significant collaboration between Rough Magic Theatre Company, Opera Theatre Company and Sky Arts.
Opening tonight in an Olympia Theatre that has been reimagined by architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, ‘Mahagonny’ was made possible when the project was awarded €230,000 by Sky Arts Ignition.
‘Mahagonny’ was created by German composer Kurt Weill and dramatist Bertolt Brecht two years after their huge triumph with ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and it was very controversial from the beginning. It had its premiere in Leipzig, Germany, in March 1930 and played in Berlin in December of the following year. But the Nazi movement turned against both it and the creative pair, and ‘Mahagonny’ was banned in Germany in 1933.
“They weren't particularly happy with Brecht but they were very unhappy with Weill because they saw him as using, in their terms, ‘un-Germanic music’, in that he was using jazz and cabaret music which they, of course, despised,” explains the show's director and Rough Magic founder Lynne Parker.
“Brecht was looking at a society that was really ignoring what was going on. That's really the target of the play; the soporific nature of consumerism and the cafe-drinking culture in the Weimar Republic that are benignly unaware of what is really going on.”
It did not have any significant production until the 1960s and is even now an opera almost never performed in Ireland.
‘Mahagonny' is set in this fictitious city of debauchery founded by three criminals devoted to pleasure – the Weimar Republic meets Prohibition meets Dublin five years ago. It's an invented place; the modern equivalent would probably be Dubai.”
Operas are expensive. €230,000 is a generous grant, but it is only the tip of the financial iceberg.
“We will be looking to box office to make up the shortfall, so it is a risk. This is a tricky time for large-scale productions and, in this climate, we would not be able to do this without Sky Arts,” said Ms Parker.