As the first main stage production in Australia in over forty years, Melbourne Opera and IOpera will present a stunning reinterpretation of Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Athenaeum Theatre from 1 May 2022.
First performed in Leipzig in 1930, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is a political-satirical opera that was banned in Germany after 1933 by the Third Reich.
Regularly performed in the great opera houses of the world (including recent revivals at Covent Garden and The Met), its criticism of corruption in a world with increasingly shaky moral foundations makes it more relevant than ever.
Director Suzanne Chaundy (Das Rheingold, The Flying Dutchman) is tackling a full production of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, and now takes on the revolutionary work of Brecht, Hauptmann and Weill. This new mainstage Australian production will fittingly premiere on May Day!
Chaundy’s past work as a theatre director has seen her directed works by (and influenced by) Brecht and Hauptmann. “I am so happy to bring The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny into my opera practice,” she said.
“Brecht and Hauptmann were amongst the most revolutionary theatre makers of the early twentieth century and the resonances of their stylistic conventions still play through into the nuances of the most contemporary theatre makers today.”
“Brecht and Hauptmann’s use of projected text, short and juxtaposed scenes and a sense of anarchic humour is as fresh as ever… this production offers me an opportunity to bring it front and centre,” says Chaundy.
The production will see two-time Helpmann Award-winner James Egglestone in the role of Jimmy, who enjoyed enormous success as Loge in Das Rheingold for Melbourne Opera, perform alongside his wife, the highly accomplished and brilliantly talented Antoinette Halloran as the provocative Jenny Smith. Antoinette recently gave a stellar performance in the leading role of Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd.
In the role of Fatty the Bookkeeper, tenor Robert Macfarlane had major performances lined up with Opera Australia and other companies when COVID-19 lockdown hit. When all his contracts disappeared, Robert pivoted to work as an ER Nurse in a public hospital and writing and performing songs for his band Nurserachted.
Created by the same team who wrote The Threepenny Opera, the score draws on grand-opera, operetta, and the jazz-infused popular music of the roaring ‘20s and 30s. One of the most famous numbers in Mahagonny is the Alabama Song (show me the way to the next whiskey bar) sung by Jenny (played here by Halloran), a landmark role for opera singers and ‘cross-over’ singers alike. This role has been performed by many extraordinary artists from Lotte Lenya to Audra McDonald, and the song has been covered by David Bowie and The Doors.
Rounding out the critically acclaimed lead cast are Christopher Hillier (Zurga in The Pearl Fishers), Liane Keegan (Erda in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Opera Australia), Christopher Tonkin (Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Fraser Findlay (Jamie Wellerstein in The Last Five Years), Darcy Carroll (Richard Divall Emerging Artist), Alastair Cooper-Golec (Richard Divall Emerging Artist), as well as the brilliantly talented Melbourne Opera chorus under Chorus Master Raymond Lawrence (Macbeth).
The cast and 40-piece orchestra is conducted by Peter Tregear, a multi-award winning conductor and singer who has mounted several UK and Australian premieres of Weimar-era works, including Max Brand’s opera Machinist Hopkins at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. This co-production by Melbourne Opera and IOpera offers a wonderful opportunity for audiences to encounter repertoire long absent from Victorian stages.
IOpera was founded in 2007 by Gert Reifarth and Peter Tregear to provide opportunities for local audiences to encounter forgotten or neglected operatic works and explore innovative forms of opera production.
Staged works include the Australian premiere of Venjamin Fleischman’s one-act opera Rothschild’s Violin (1941) and Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis (1943). In 2019, IOpera presented a hugely successful sell-out success at the Athenaeum Theatre of a semi-staged concert of another work from the Weimar period, Krenek’s Jonny spielt Auf (Jonny Strikes Up) (1926).
“Artistic collaboration has always been an integral part of Melbourne Opera’s ethos. We are very excited about being involved in another IOpera project. Peter Tregear is an acknowledged expert in this repertoire, and we love working with Suzanne Chaundy,” says Greg Hocking of Melbourne Opera.
Director: Suzanne Chaundy | Conductor: Peter Tregear | Featuring: Antoinette Halloran, James Egglestone, Christopher Hillier, Liane Keegan, Robert Macfarlane, Christopher Tonkin, Fraser Findlay, Darcy Carroll, Alastair Cooper-Golec, Amelia Wawrzon, Teresa Ingrilli, Jane Magão, Naomi Flatman, Esther Gresswell, Juel Rigall, Melbourne Opera Chorus, Melbourne Opera Orchestra
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Season: 1 – 5 May 2022
Information and Bookings: www.melbourneopera.com
Image: The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (supplied)