Opera Review: Magahonny

'The Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny' conveys message that the most severe crime is poverty.

MAHAGONNY 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Yossi Zveker)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Yossi Zveker)
Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny, performed by the Israeli Opera, conveys the message that the most severe crime, deserving the death penalty, is poverty. It suggests this attitude has not changed since 1930s Europe but merely gotten worse.
Director Omri Nitzan and set designer Michael Kramenko’s obsession with video art, innovative and modern several decades ago, was partly amusing, partly irritating and partly confusing. David Stern, first and foremost an orchestra conductor, payed little to no attention to the singers, and did not use his authority to restrain the orchestra’s volume in order not to overshadow the voices.
Most of the singers’ enunciation was unintelligible, making it difficult to understand the text without resorting to the screened translation or indeed distinguish whether the half-open-mouthed language was German, English or Gibberish. Almost all the singers recited or sung their roles plainly, theatrically and without nuance, like routine opera arias, not light, musical-style hit songs.
There was no trace of Weill’s and Brecht’s biting irony and makebelieve nonchalance, their main characteristics. Jenny (Neomi Nadelmann) sounded like a heavyset dramatic soprano, instead of a lighthearted, soubrette-type chanteuse. Jim (Wolfgang Schwaninger) was pathetic before his execution, evincing none of the witty alienation so typical of Weill. The court scene, mercifully, provided some comic relief, highlighting the satirical aspect of the proceedings.
For those who might have missed it, the relevance of the 1930s-era social protest to the contemporary local scene was bluntly emphasized at the end.