By Sabby Sagall
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The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny – still a challenge to the system

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Issue 2446
Play is an outspoken critique of the “roaring twenties” capitalism

Play is an outspoken critique of how human relationships are commodified

This opera was first performed in the shadow of the 1929 Wall Street Crash in Leipzig in 1930. 

It was the first major collaboration between  German composer Kurt Weill and Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht.

The story begins with three criminals fleeing arrest. When their lorry breaks down, they decide to stay put and set up a new city Mahagonny dedicated to making money.  

They persuade some men to abandon the old cities’ drudgery and move into the new dream city.  

Four friends who have made their fortunes in Alaska arrive in search of gambling, women and cheap booze. 

But one of the newcomers, Jimmy, becomes dissatisfied with Mahagonny’s comforts on offer, feeling there should be more to life. 

He demands that all rules be abolished, insisting that this is the road to happiness.

Jimmy is put on trial for his destructiveness—but especially for having no money. 

Brecht’s play is an outspoken critique of the “roaring twenties” capitalism, and is also a powerful critique of how human relationships are commodified. 

The orchestra performs Weill’s modernist music with intensity. And the production contains some fine vocal performances. 

But its Las-Vegas-type setting loses the urgency and protest of the original. 

There is no sense of crisis or impending doom—except at an individual level. Brecht’s political satire is soft pedalled. 

Nevertheless, the production retains an element of challenge to a society in which Thatcherite values still survive. 

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Royal Opera House, London WC2E 9DD.


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