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.
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.