Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Teatro Real in Madrid [Mezzo-TV broadcast], October 2010
La Fura dels Baus ..... Director
Pablo Heras-Casado ..... Conductor
Measha Brueggergosman ..... Jenny Smith
Michael König ..... Jim MacIntyre
Willard White ..... Trinity Moses
Jane Henschel ..... Leocadia Begbick
Donald Kaasch ..... Fatty "the Bookkeeper"
John Easterlin ..... Jack O'Brien
Otto Katzameier ..... Bill
Steven Humes ..... Alaska-Wolf Joe
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real in Madrid
I finally got to see this magnificent show that was live broadcast from Teatro Real in Madrid on Mezzo-TV. It is one of many shows I have recorded and never have enough time to see. On a train to Toulouse-- where I was to see another new production of this fantastic opera-- I had enough time to see it carefully and to enjoy its brilliance. Hopefully a DVD will be released sometimes next year as this production, cast and the orchestra (with a ginormously talented young conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado) definitely deserve to be a reference for the future productions of this opera.
I should also spend several lines to praise Mezzo-TV and Teatro Real, for this excellent initiative to live broadcast a top notch new production. It is the best way to spread good theater and good opera productions [in contrast to the re-creation of a dead/ancient production of Le Nozze, in spite of its director being six feet under since many years...] It would have been even better if public-TV did broadcast this show and made a stronger outreach and stronger impact, but it was anyway cool [If you didn't subscribe to Mezzo-TV, you should!]
When someone tells you La Fura dels Baus today, you instantly think of large contraptions, of the use of big machinery, segways rushing across the stage, large platforms and loads of videos... I feared that would be the case here as it would be incompatible with the score, the story, and especially with the Weimar cabaret flavor of this opera. So, good news is that this show is spectacular but not in a way you'd expect it from La Fura. Here they show how delightfully competent they are in occupying the space, how skillfully they define the dramatic action spatially, leaving the actors to the rest -- and in this case the actors were all all superb. Many clever ideas, double meanings propagate throughout the show and in that respect this Mahagonny reminded me of their highly clever production of Le grand macabre in Brussels a year and a half ago.
To moderate my own propos, I should say that with this opera, its rich libretto, and with the actual state of economy, a director's task is much easier than with many of the standard repertoire operas.
Although Mahagonny was written to "expose"/ridicule imperialism, its satire was even more applicable to a dreaded vision of society of free consumers. If Las Vegas was a micro-symbol of that artificial, decadent, and ultimately 'amoral' society, today this opera --although written more than 80 years ago-- looks almost depressing as it proves highly descriptive of any Western country today, i.e. society in which the basic mantra is to spend, spend, spend -- consume, consume, consume... I would even go a step further and say that this obsessively-consuming spirit is at its peak in Eastern countries (I visited recently Eastern Europe, China, and was shocked to see how the shopping-for-shopping disease had spread out and is violently hitting these countries.)
La Fura actually emphasized that aspect and started the show on a set consisting of huge hills of garbage [aren't we all living with loads of "stuff" -- things that we once desired, but soon after we acquired them they became trash... "stuff".]
Begbick, Moses and Fatty do what we can recognize today around us: They start business not wanting to produce/create anything to make money. They don't care about the environment [garbage]. They look to clean a tiny area and start business. They use sex, booze, publicity stunts and take the money from those who actually do something to earn it. (At least they were crooks, unlike the folks who start the same and similar businesses today by claiming high moral grounds...)
So the trio start business by founding the city of Mahagonny, employing the creatures with no faces (they are accessories -- they are irrelevant -- those are these gray creatures). Money is the only incentive and everything is allowed and/or morally good if the profit is at stake. Of all the locals (masked creatures) only Jenny could take her mask off as she too wants to be a part of this business -- she handles the sex side of business.
Four men from Alaska come on office-chairs, wearing suits and ties: hardworking men who crave for some distraction. They arrive to Mahagonny to make all their dreams come true. At the beginning it all looks like one of those atrocious holiday resorts where you live in a fake microworld of "pleasure" separated by big walls from the real world... real world, buried in garbage. Jim MacIntyre (one of the four Alaska men) will soon get bored and enraged by the pointlessness of it all. Even if he is a natural born antagonist, he sees beyond futile hedonism because the hedonism per se does not converge to anything creative. It is based on theft, and the society built on this activity is bound to be corrupted. He rebels against it, makes the waves that the business-trio does not appreciate, and will end by being executed.
After a hurricane miraculously deviate its trajectory to avoid Mahagonny, the consumption explodes -- the citizens of Mahagonny eat compulsively, have organized sex, distract themselves in box fights, and eventually drink too much. At every stage the trio is making profit and MacIntyre accumulates "mistakes" for which he will be punished by a corrupted justice --also ran by the trio of crooks: Fatty, Begbick, and Moses, with both Jenny and Billy abandoning him.
There is a bunch of critiques of today's society. The collective sex scene shows the girls who all look the same and their sexuality reduced to a (uniform) performance. The excessive consumption is shown as neutralizer/nullifier of everything positively human -- it enhances the greed of those making profit and progressively dehumanizes the entire society. At some point the food they eat is all processed and the way they eat looks like feeding cattle (just look how the Corn Flakes are made!); the trial to Jim takes place in circus (with Fatty disguised in clown), just like the big media run never ending trials whose purpose is to trigger controversies and increase ratings...
All that with ineffable cast: always fantastic Jane Henschel who seems to get better with age, amazing Willard White, always reliable Michael König who gives his best in scenically non-trivial shows, and Measha Brueggergosman whose vocal and scenic exuberance work magnificently with the character of Jenny Smith. Grand moment de théâtre!
As you might have guessed it --from the name of Jim MacIntyre-- the show was sung in English. Since I had some time on my hands during the trip to Toulouse, I screen-capped many pics -- see below.
For another blogger-review of this fantastic show please see Classical Iconoclast, whose praise I wholeheartedly agree with and who nicely ends his review by "This Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny packs a punch, and can't be ignored. Just what Brecht and Weill would have loved. "