Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
The Two Widows
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
The Edinburgh International Festival got off to a soggy start this year. The Usher Hall, where as always the opening concert took place, is heavily shrouded, while Stage Two of a renovation process which will make it even more of a ‘centre of Creativity and Inspiration’ (isn’t it time those two had a rest?) is completed, but once you find the temporary entrance the interior is reassuringly familiar, and we began with a large-scale piece for big forces, Brecht–Weill’s most ambitious collaboration, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. H.K. Gruber was the galvanising conductor, and he persuaded the brass of the fine Royal Scottish National Orchestra to surpass themselves in virtuosity and volume, with the enthusiastic support of the Festival Chorus.
Recalling all the big pieces I have heard there, I think the last ten minutes of this were the most deafening, as platitudes about the unrevivability of a dead man were hurled at us. Taking this work to extremes is, as one might expect, Gruber’s way of persuading us of its effectiveness. Much as I want to believe in it, I can’t. There are too many wonderful things in it for neglect, but pretty well all of them are in the Mahagonny-Songspiel, and it’s an illusion to think that, because that is so marvellous, much more of it would be much more marvellous. By the time we got to the interval in the three hours in the Usher Hall, we had heard enough. The plot, if it can be called that, carries on, but much of the music is reprising the numbers that everyone knows and should love. Since it is impossible to give a damn about the outcome of the action, one notices all the more the limited musical means that Weill has at his disposal, with a tiny repertoire of rhythmic and harmonic gestures.