Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

As a fan of Bertolt Brecht’s work, I was intrigued to see the Royal Opera House production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the opera he wrote with Kurt Weill. Directed by John Fulljames, it is a new production of the twentieth-century satire on consumerism which first premiered in 1930.

The opera tells the story of three criminals on the run, who found a city called Mahagonny, in which anything is permitted: drugs, violence, prostitution and excess of all kinds. In the midst of the debauchery, Jimmy McIntyre, a lumberjack, and Jenny, a prostitute, fall in love and try to escape, but Jimmy is arrested for being unable to afford his bills – lack of money being a crime punishable by death.

The stark message that having no money is the worst crime of all is worryingly contemporary in the current political climate. It’s an absorbing and thought-provoking tale with the anger and passion you would expect from Brecht. There are some fairly catchy tunes too, notably the “Alabama Song”, which I’d previously known only via the cover by The Doors.

Designer Es Devlin has created an impressive set, particularly breathtaking in the second half, with raised coloured boxes signifying the developing city. All of the performers, including Christine Rice (Jenny), Kurt Streit (Jimmy) and Anne Marie Gibbons (Leocadia Begbick) did a good job, and the overall effect was impressive, much more unusual compared to operas I’ve seen previously, and an interesting departure for the Royal Opera House.


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