Michael White, writing in the NYTimes on March 13, had one entirely accurate thing to say about the new Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production, in English, of Kurt Weill's masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), which I saw yesterday afternoon at Symphony Space as part of the National Theatre (not exactly, but that's perfectly okay) Live broadcast series: "This is a piece whose chronicling of modern life is so exact, it functions more like reportage than reimagining."
I count this as my sixth Mahagonny (eighth, if you include audio recordings). It's an enormously difficult piece to pull off, and reviewers of it, and much of Weill's work (or Brecht's, for that matter), tend toward expressing disappointment that what they're seeing is not the perfect production they seek, it seems. White does the same, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, instead of appreciating how far and how well a production actually gets it right, and thus turns away potential audiences from this hugely important work.
Every performance is different, of course, so I did not see the particular one reviewed here. Former ingenue, von Otter was wonderful, cold, laser-sharp focused, and frightening as the Widow Begbick, foundress of the pleasure town, Mahagonny, and the rest of the cast was quite strong. The production starts small and grows progressively lavish--if "lavish" includes scores of shipping containers stacked to a horizon-obliterating height--with clever, cutting edge projection effects. The first act showed the most exciting--I mean, riveting--account I've ever seen of this opera. But what blew me away the most was how clearly America (and the world) has turned into Mahagonny. "Prescient" doesn't come close to describing the alignment between what late Capitalism has accomplished--and continues to do so--and the savage world-critique, the weltanschauung-critique, Weill and Brecht fashioned, which still seemed bizarre and off-putting to me a handful of years ago, and now reads like an aesthetically-heightened newspaper, with some of the most gorgeous, thrilling music ever composed for an opera stage.