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Weill - Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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(Dec 18, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Welcome to Mahagonny, where sin is "in" and love is always on sale. This Old West boomtown rises from the desert to become a razzle-dazzle mecca for lust, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure. Cash is king, poverty is punishable by death, and anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Director John Doyle melds his Tony Award winning talent with the lyrics of influential playwright Bertolt Brecht and an incomparable score by Kurt Weill. The brilliant cast is led by superstars Audra McDonald, as the tart-with-a-heart `Jenny' and Patti LuPone, who portrays the town's feisty madam. Audra McDonald · Patti LuPone · Anthony Dean Griffey Robert Wörle · John Easterlin · Mel Ulrich Directed for Stage by John Doyle Chorus and Orchestra of the Los Angeles Opera James Conlon, conductor

- Recorded live at Los Angeles Opera, 1 & 4 March 2007 - Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic - Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1 · DTS 5.1 - Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish - Booklet Notes: English, German, French - Bonus feature: "James Conlon on Mahagonny"


This 2007 Los Angeles Opera production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny makes a powerful case for a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill work that seemed forever doomed to take a back seat to their popular Threepenny Opera. It's cut from the same cloth, however: Brecht's acerbic text and Weill's imaginative blend of classical forms, post-Romantic irony, and cabaret music make it irresistible, especially in a production that captures the spirit and style of the work. Inspired casting marks the production's success--the critical roles of Jenny and the Leocadia Begbick were entrusted to two stars of the musical stage, Audra McDonald and Patti Lupone. Their outsized performances are mesmerizing--McDonald's singing and acting reveal emotional depths one never suspected of Jenny, while Lupone's amoral Begbick is almost endearing in her over-the-top aggressiveness. Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey matches them with a portrayal of the naive innocent, Jimmy McIntyre, that's deeply affecting and beautifully sung. Donnie Ray Albert brings his imposing dramatic baritone and physical presence to the role of Trinity Moses, Begbick's right-hand man. Conductor James Conlon has Weill's idiom down pat, and his orchestra plays with the rhythmic drive and edgy bite the score demands.

Brecht's text is very much of its time, the late 1920's. The city of Mahagonny is a vision--really a nightmare--of capitalist greed where sin flourishes, money is all, and poverty is a crime. On the run from the police, Begbick and her accomplices are stalled in the desert and decide to build a city "where anything goes." Soon the place is booming, with money tossed around aimlessly. But money doesn't bring happiness when love is a commodity and license to do anything turns into boredom. When the city survives the threat of a typhoon, the people binge, celebrating to an excess of eating, loving, fighting, and drinking. When Jimmy can't pay his liquor bill he's condemned to death.

While Brecht's vision of theatre distances the audience, stage director John Doyle's stylistically minimalist production allows room for emotional impact, primarily through the affecting acting of McDonald and Griffey, whose death scene is moving in its simple staging. Against designer Mark Bailey's non-realistic sets that suggest, rather than portray, the city, Doyle deploys his cast in expressionistic modes, often lined across the stage directly addressing the audience. And Brecht would have approved the contemporary references sprinkled through the production--the sin city in the desert recalls Las Vegas' transformation into a gambling mecca in the 1950s, and after Jimmy's execution, his paramour Jenny is presented with a neatly folded flag reminiscent of military burials. The DVD production faithfully tracks the stage action, wisely pulling back for full stage views as well as providing sufficient close-ups of the action. The opera is done in Michael Feingold's idiomatic translation but it would have been helpful to have English subtitles. An extra bonus track is a cogent interview with conductor James Conlon, who provides valuable analysis of the opera and its context. --Dan Davis

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Anthony Dean Griffey, James Conlon, Robert Worle
  • Directors: John Doyle
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1), English (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: EuroArts
  • DVD Release Date: December 18, 2007
  • Run Time: 133 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000XUPB7Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,043 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Mahagonny is more-or-less an opera - Weill intended it as such, but with the cabaret-style numbers it can also be seen as musical theater. To modern viewers (well, me, at any rate) its construction initially seems unsatisfactory: the first half-hour is very bitty, more a series of tableaux than anything, and scenes are announced over a loudspeaker (every time we cut to it, I expected it to go "The white zone is for loading and unloading only..."). This is all very distancing for the viewer, but that's the whole point - as James Conlon explains in the useful 20-minute interview, we are expected to be intellectually but not emotionally engaged. In fact, though, with a performance as good as Anthony Dean Griffey's as the unfortunate Jimmy and with the orchestra on top form, it's hard not to get caught up as the story unfolds, and Weill knew exactly what he was doing - musically, it all comes together superbly. The plot? Mahagonny is founded as a haven of "contentment" for men, but rules of good behavior bring boredom and, in the face of destruction from a hurricane, the rule is changed to "everything is permitted" (accompanied in this production by explicit reference to Nazi Germany). Mahagonny prospers, but Jimmy McIntyre commits the ultimate crime of not being able to pay; the end is remarkably bleak in its view of society: "there's nothing you can do for a dead man". The production is well designed, and clever in its gradual transformation to modern times, reminding us that although Brecht's particular form of anti-capitalist art may seem a little old-fashioned it still is of relevance. Of course if you're coming to this DVD as a lover of musicals rather than opera, the big draws will be Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald; both are excellent - in as much as you can get to the heart of a character who might not have one, McDonald manages it.
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The LA Opera production of "Mahagony" is nothing less than thrilling. Weill's great score is rendered powerfully and idiomatically and the cast is excellent, especially Audra McDonald, Patti Lupone and Anthony Griffey as Jimmy. The production was faithful to Brecht's epic theater principles, including the presentational style of acting. This is not realism, so it shouldn't be judged as if it were. And though the tone is ironic and satiric, that doesn't mean there isn't emotion or excitement. The "agitprop" works beautifully, with some contemporary flourishes (allusions to Iraq, for example) that are faithful to the Brechtian spirit.
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This is a masterful production of an incredibly dark and dissonant 'opera.' I put the quotes around opera because this is not your typical opera by any stretch of the imagination. The sets are purposefully minimal, the casting is purposefully odd, the orchestration is purposefully dissonant, the music and tone are purposefully haunting and the singing is incredible!

No one would believe that Jenny could fall for Jimmy. No one would believe that anyone would want to live in Mahagonny. No one would believe that anyone would have such disloyal friends as Jimmy after being together for so many years. But believable or not, it works. However, this is not your father's Rigoletto! If you are considering this item because you like opera you may not be pleased with your purchase. As already mentioned by another reviewer, the 20 minute conversation with the conductor on the DVD is invaluable. He clearly explains that the geniuses behind this masterpiece didn't write an `opera' that they intended for the audience to experience with their hearts. They wrote a biting commentary on the ills of society and the banality of human existence that they wanted us to experience from a distance with our heads.

It is dark, dissonant, minimalist and not at all uplifting, but it is masterful musical theater and the lead performers are all at the peak of their game and perfectly fit their various roles in this disharmonious stab at human existence and society's ill placed priorities.

I was blown away by this production and would have awarded it five stars but for the lack of libretto in the liner notes and/or English subtitles on the DVD.
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This 2007 LA Opera production of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's 1931 Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny gets a fine musical performance (led by James Conlon), but the stage production falls short and is often frustratingly stagnant. Many numbers are given with the performers seated on stage (a particular peeve of mine I'll admit) or standing in a line across the stage facing the audience, often without interaction between the characters. In one scene two characters reminisce about their friendship. The music suggests intimacy yet the singers not only don't address each other but are also many feet apart on stage with the chorus standing between them.

In a work that straddles the worlds of opera and musical theater, it's not surprising that the strongest and most fully rounded performances come from the two Broadway stars in the cast. Audra McDonald in particular throws herself into the part of Jenny, the leader of Mahagonny's prostitutes, giving a provocative performance that a star of her stature could easily have avoided. Her singing, which I've often found too overpowering for her material, here fits nicely. Patti LuPone also does well as Leocadia Begbick, one of the band of fugitives who found the city providing recreation and entertainment for gold miners out in the middle of nowhere ("It's easier getting gold out of men then out of rivers" she says). Overall the rest of the cast sings well, but delivers spoken dialogue stiffly.

As I've said, the musical performance is first rate. Weill's score lies somewhere between Stravinsky and Gershwin, always tuneful, yet rhythmically active and harmonically pungent. Conlon delivers this in the present tense, without making it sound like a retro-recreation of Weimar Republic era sounds.
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