Seventy-five years, which is normally long enough to give works of art respectability, have passed since Mahagonny first came out in its present form. It is a real opera, in that there are arias, duets, ensembles and chorus, but it is a most commendable act of courage on the part of the Teatro dellOpera di Roma to put it on. For it is very strong stuff, a satire against capitalism, in which depravity and immorality of every sort, including sexual tourism and all that is associated with frontier life, are acceptable, or more or less so, and graphically depicted and sung about. There is for instance a wistful exchange between the hero, Jim, and heroine, Jenny, on the edifying matters as to whether Jenny should brush her hair forward or back, or should or should not use underwear under her skirt. However, the inability to pay debts is not acceptable and leads to the execution of Jim after a travesty of a trial as the climax of the opera.
The orchestra is compact, but includes guitars, glockenspiel and saxophones, and the writing for it most compelling, with great emphasis on the use of the brass. After a vigorous overture, powerful arias and ensembles follow each other in rapid succession, of which the best known are the haunting Alabama-song, sung by the Cuban mulatto, Jenny, and six other girls, and Jims Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man (As you make your bed, so you must lie on it), but there are many other fine and dramatic moments.
The stage of the Teatro Nazionale is rather small and there is no pit for the orchestra, but these seems sacrifices worth making in order to put such a piece on at all; government funding is ever less generous and this is not a work that would fill a large theatre. The production, by Daniele Abbado, is simple but ingeniously evocative, with staging borrowed from Messina and more than adequate costumes. The conductor is the young Jonathan Webb, who draws a superb performance from the orchestra throughout the complex and lively orchestration. Talented, young performers give their utmost in their commitment to the demands of this problematical work, with special praise being due to the Jenny of Valentina Valente, a role created originally by Weills wife, Lotte Lenya, the Jim of William Joyner and the Leokadja Begbick of Gabriella Sborgi. Special mention should also be made of the highly seductive dancing of Sabrina Carrone.
Teatro dellOpera di Roma at the Teatro Nazionale, Via del Viminale 51, Rome. Tel. 06481601 www.opera.roma.it. 28 January 2005. Further performances 30 January, 1,3,4,5 February 2005.