Old Fitz Theatre, April 3
“Ooh, let’s lift this scab and see what’s underneath,” Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht seem to say. The oddity was not their infatuation with humanity’s darker side, but the jaunty way in which they investigated it. Perhaps they didn’t expect us to rise much higher, anyway, sin being a given. How else are we expected to get by?
We can’t, so we drown our sorrows in another improbably wondrous night in the Old Fitz. Joining such unforgettable shows there as Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days, this double bill of Weill/Brecht works contains comparable bleakness and humour: the only triumph to which humanity can aspire is survival.
That and art, it turns out. The sheer scale of the ambition is mind-boggling. Who’d dream of cramming 17 musicians, six singers, a dancer and a conductor into this little crucible? Director Constantine Costi would, and it’s hard to imagine the works being done much better.
The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) is part ballet, part cabaret and part road movie, with two sisters, Anna I (mezzo-soprano Margaret Trubiano) and Anna II (dancer Allie Graham) leaving their Louisiana home to try their luck in the big cities. No, it doesn’t go well: they encounter the sins of the title and feckless, malignant males – played by tenors Nicholas Jones and Benjamin Rasheed and baritones Andrew Moran and Anthony Mackey.
This segued directly into Mahagonny Songspiel (1927), the short precursor to Weill and Brecht writing their full-blown opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (the manic 1982 Sydney production of which may be burned into some readers’ memories). Mahagonny’s scab is all glitz and glamour, beneath which lurks festering anguish and desolation. The more things change…
Besides Costi, the expert team includes conductor Brian Castles-Onion and choreographer Shannon Burns, the latter’s work vibrantly performed by Graham, who melts her very bones into a floppy doll or sinuous snake. All the singers (joined by soprano Roberta Diamond for Mahagonny) excel across a range from the much loved Alabama Song to material akin to barbershop quartets. Castles-Onion’s young orchestra enthusiastically realises Weill’s quirky harmonic and textural language: edginess souring to dissonance like milk left out in the sun. Not that there’s much sun in this world view: more an inevitable descent to hell.