The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
An Opera in Three Acts
An Opera by Kurt Weill & Bertold Brecht
May 6, 7, 13, 14 at 8:30pm
May 8 & 15 at 2pm
UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall
Libretto by Bertolt Brecht
English Translation by Michael Feingold
Music by Kurt Weill
Conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick*
Stage Direction by John Hall*
Production Design by Archie Sharp
Lighting Design by P. Reid Hart
Costumes by Allison Gail Bixby
Musical Preparation by Peggy Sheffield*
In the vast tapestry of operatic literature there are certain works that are widely and widely talked about, but are seldom produced. These opera titles are popular cocktail party conversation and operatic seminar topics but few opera lovers have ever seen them. Recordings of these works may exist but they often confuse the listener or limit the work’s impact for without witnessing a live performance in the theater, judgments must be reserved, “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” by Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weill is a prime example of this paradox; an opera that many people know about but few people know.
I remember reading about “Mahagonny” as a student.” The title alone caught my attention but the stories of rioting at the Berlin premiere in 1930 and the Nazi persecution of the authors and their exile to America made me even more curious. When I first heard Lotte Lenya singing “Alabama Song” with her uniquely broken but bittersweet voice I was hooked. This strange opera with its Cabaret tunes and anti-capitalistic dogma, it’s hookers and crude opportunistic characters so full of hatred and despair had won me over. Pre-war Berlin fascinated me. Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, William Furtwangler, Max Reinhardt, Mies Van der Rohe, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Kathe Kollwitz, Christopher Isherwood, Brecht, Weill and many more were there and they were all busy. The incredible economic inflation and depression of the period seemed to spark creativity.
When Samuel Krachmalnick, the new Director of the UCLA Opera Theater, decided on “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” for production, I had my own reservations. UCLA and Southern California in 1977 seemed almost too far apart. Recent productions of the Opera (and its original one-act version) had left me cold and unmoved. They seemed to lack a sense of period or style. Could UCLA students create that exotic mixture of communism and cabaret on the operatic stage? Lotte Lenya’s opening phrase “O Moon of Alabama…” made me feel that perhaps this paradoxical opera by two angry young men would best be performed by students. This production was conceived with that in mind, and in future conversations about “Mahagonny” we can say we were there, we saw it.
Three escaped criminals, Begbick, Moses and Fatty, make plans to build Mahagonny, a city of pleasure, to entice workers coming down from northern gold fields. Hookers, gamblers and other lowlifes appear and join forces with the three founders following the rules of supply and demand. Among the new residents of Mahagonny come four lumberjacks from Alaska looking for a good time. Their leader Jimmy MacIntyre discovers that Mahagonny is too restrictive to give him pleasure. When a hurricane threatens to destroy the city he formulates his ideal for Mahagonny. “You may do anything for the sake of your own well being.” Quick to see the enormous profits to be made, Begbick adopts his anarchistic ideas with capitalistic ferver.
In the second act we see the hurricane bypass Mahagonny and Jimmy’s lawlessness put into practice. One of his friends eats himself to death, another is killed fighting. Love is organized like a computer and when Jimmy is drinking at the bar he is caught by Mahagonny’s only law. Anything is allowed if you’ve got the cash to pay for it. Penniless, he is rejected by his friends, arrested and put on trial by Kangaroo court.
Act three begins with the “whells of justice” in motion, well oiled by bribery and deceit. Because he has no money he is sentenced to death. At his execution, his appeals to God are useless because they are in hell already. The hell he helped create. The city destroys itself feeding on its own wickedness.
Fatty, the Procurer
Jane Henschel (May 6, 8, 14)
Lisa Turetsky (May 7, 13, 15)
Bank Account Bill
Alaska Wolf Joe
Maidens of Mahagonny
Men of Mahagonny
Members of UCLA’s
Men’s Glee Club –
Donn Weiss, Director
*UCLA Faculty Member
Conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick
Opera Workshop Staff
Coaching and Repertoire
Mario Carta and Peggy Sheffield
Betty Barr and Carol Vane
Musical Theater Director
German and French Diction
Kate Hendon and Sigrid Wagner
*UCLA faculty member