1. A GOLDEN PARTNERSHIP: BRECHT & WEILL
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is the result of an intensive collaboration between composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and playwright and director Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). Though their partnership lasted only five years, it yielded a rich output, including Die Dreigroschenoper (1928), Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930) and Die sieben Todsünden (1933). Among these works, only Mahagonny carries the label of an ‘opera’. Mahagonny’s core theme revolves around the power of money and the ruthless way in which the world is ruled, dominated and manipulated by those who possess it. Everything in Mahagonny is raw and merciless, and this is exactly how Weill and Brecht present it to the audience. The 1930 premiere in Leipzig faced disruptions from frequent booing and disturbances, from both the indignant bourgeoisie and the rising Nazis.
2. BERTOLT BRECHT AND THE EPIC THEATRE
From his Marxist engagement, playwright, director and thinker Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) advocated for 'epic theatre'. Unlike classic theatre, which centres on empathy for characters, the audience in epic theatre must consciously maintain a certain distance, allowing space for critical reflection – much like the epic genre, where the narrator presents the action. ‘Alienation effects’ are crucial in this approach, with techniques like incorporating songs or directly addressing the audience.
3. KURT WEILL: CLASSIC, DANCE MUSIC AND JAZZ
With Mahagonny, composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) aimed to innovate the opera genre. For Weill, opera had to have a broad societal relevance and appeal to the general public. To achieve this, it needed to resonate with contemporary sounds like jazz and popular dance music, such as the foxtrot, shimmy and tango. Both text and music are composed to communicate directly with the audience; sentences are simple and straightforward, the vocal lines bear little ornamentation, and they align with the natural melody of the language.
4. THE RETURN OF IVO VAN HOVE
Following his work on De zaak Makropulos (2002), Iolanta (2004), Der Schatzgräber (2012) and Salome (2017), celebrated director Ivo van Hove returns to Dutch National Opera with a cutting-edge interpretation of Mahagonny. In his rendition, Van Hove underscores the artificial nature of Mahagonny through the extensive use of video images and green screens, introducing a new alienation effect.
5. THE CONDUCTOR: MARKUS STENZ
Markus Stenz is known for his passion for twentieth century and contemporary repertoire. At Dutch National Opera, he previously conducted a brilliant performance of Gyorgy Kurtag’s opera Fin de Partie in 2019. He first encountered Mahagonny in the nineties when he conducted the work as a young conductor. Now, thirty years later, he revisits the score.
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is to be seen at Dutch National Opera & Ballet from 6 to 27 September 2023