Socialist Worker

Kurt Weill’s Venus says we’re more than just consumers

As Opera North revives the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus, Christian Hogsbjerg looks at the production

Issue No. 1942

One Touch of Venus tells the story of the Roman goddess of love coming to life again in 20th century New York. It is not altogether surprising that a new British production of this forgotten 1940s musical is enjoying the sort of success that it originally achieved on Broadway.

If television is anything to go by, there seems to be a huge appetite for shows about the love lives of rich New Yorkers. Yet One Touch of Venus, though it begins when a wealthy and successful artist buys a beautiful statue, is no ordinary love story.

Written in 1943 by Kurt Weill, together with the comic writers SJ Perelman (who also wrote scripts for the Marx Brothers) and Ogden Nash, this musical wickedly and wonderfully subverts conventional ideas about sexuality and power.

Once alive, Venus, the embodiment of pure love, challenges those who think they can just buy her like a commodity and keep her like a statue for decoration.

One Touch of Venus is also about a sense of place.

Venus in New York is, of course, as she sings, “a stranger here myself”, but the same was true of Weill who had fled there to find refuge from Nazi Germany.

In America, Weill had tried to put his past in German theatre behind him and concentrate on the new possibilities that opened up.

Yet One Touch of Venus shows that the experiences of working with radical dramatists, including socialist playwright Bertolt Brecht in The Threepenny Opera, clearly left their mark on him. While not overtly anti-capitalist, the musical has many incisive and witty attacks on a culture that creates consumers instead of citizens.

It undermines a world where money is the measure of all value and beauty is reduced to an investment.

As Weill put it, he wanted to show “what it really means to be free in simple terms, so that it can reach everybody”. This fresh and stylish production remains true to that spirit and is well worth looking out for.

One Touch of Venus is on tour. For dates and venues go to: www.operanorth.co.uk or phone 0113 243 9999


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Sat 12 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1942
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