From its stunningly filmic opening to its faux-Golgotha finale, the Royal Opera House’s new production of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny demands our attention. We all know that money does not buy happiness; we also know society shows no mercy to those who cannot pay. But Brecht’s brutal reduction of human needs and impulses to mere commercial interactions remains chilling. There is a dark grain in the Las Vegas glitz of this pleasure city, the spider’s web, whose perfectly-packaged freedoms bring death.
If you are as perplexed by Mahagonny as I was, you may find the following quotes illuminating, as I did! From Theodor W. Adorno, Moments Musicaux, 1930, translated by Jamie Owen Daniel in Discourse Vol. 12, No. 1, A Special Issue on Music (Fall-Winter 1989-90), pp. 70-77, full article accessible on JSTOR here:
“The opera as a whole evades a rational solution – the images of dominant horror which it projects are brought forth in accordance with its own logic only to be collapsed again at the end into the social reality whose origins they contain.”
“Just as in Kafka’s novels the commonplace bourgeois world appears absurd and displaced in that it is viewed from the hidden perspective of redemption, the bourgeois world is unmasked in Mahagonny as absurd when measured against a socialist world which itself remains concealed. Its absurdity is actual and not symbolic.”
“In Mahagonny, the Wild West (as children understand it in the context of their play) is revealed as the immanent fable of capitalism.”
“The anarchy of commodity production which Marxism has analyzed is projected as the anarchy of consumption, abbreviated to the point of crass horror which could not be rendered by an economic analysis. The reification of interpersonal relationships is evidenced by the image of prostitution, and whatever love may exist here can only burst forth from the smoking rubble of adolescent fantasies of sexual power. “