Richard Bratby

Doesn’t get better than this: The Threepenny Opera, at Edinburgh International Festival, reviewed

Plus: the much-praised conductor Klaus Makela isn’t ready to perform this repertoire in front of an international audience

A true Festival event: London as a Tetris-like climbing frame in Barrie Kosky’s production of The Threepenny Opera. Credit: © Jess Shurte

It’s the Edinburgh International Festival, and Barrie’s back in town. Once, Edinburgh was pretty much the only place that you could see Barrie Kosky directing in the UK; there was a satisfyingly transgressive thrill about an opera director whose priorities were so self-evidently about the whole art form that he’d happily stage Monteverdi as a tango-powered revue. In recent years, Baz the Knife has supplied increasingly rare moments of discovery amid the EIF’s all-you-can-eat buffet of touring orchestras and reheated prestige productions. But he’s not the rare bird he was. In fact, with a Carmen in rep at Covent Garden and a new London Rheingold coming soon after his Dialogues des Carmélites at Glyndebourne and the Proms, he’s starting to look like a fixture.

A group of multi-tasking performers played off each other with unforced, virtuosic agility

No complaints here. Few directors possess Kosky’s animal instinct for making music serve drama and this brief run of The Threepenny Opera felt like a true Festival event. The performers were the Berliner Ensemble and I arrived with a head full of preconceptions: grainy footage of Mother Courage, guttural voices croaking out agitprop. In fact we saw a group of multi-tasking performers who played off each other with unforced, virtuosic agility. Kosky excels with ensembles. As intendant of Berlin’s Komische Oper, he built a company to revive the city’s interwar jazz-operetta tradition, remaking shows by Oscar Straus and Paul Abraham as punchy, high-kicking spectaculars. Apparently ENO asked him to bring one to the Coliseum. He declined: the style was so rooted in that place and those performers that it simply wouldn’t transplant.

Anyhow, in Edinburgh a glitter curtain shimmered and a pale face goggled through into the spotlight and began to sing. ‘Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne…’ already it was all there: the sleazy glamour, playfulness and lilting cynicism of Weill and Brecht’s predatory earworm.

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