The Seven Deadly Sins
Music by Kurt Weill, libretto by Bertolt Brecht
Opera North's Eight Little Greats season
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
Not long after The Seven Deadly Sins was written, Brecht dismissed it as "not very significant", but he was setting it against his concept of epic theatre and work such as Mother Courage and Her Children, in which he was more able to set out his ideological stall. Then again, his relations with Weill at this point were not of the best.
Frankly, Brecht was wrong: it has significance in a number of ways. Even in his own ideological terms, its critique of the debasing effects of capitalism is compelling, but it also is a significant operatic development (although it was not described as an opera, but a Ballet Chanté): the use of two people (one a singer, one a dancer) playing the same person, with its overtones of split personalities; its splitting into nine short (often very short) scenes; its overtly political stance and what Patrick O'Connor calls Weill's "harsh scoring and abrupt changes of pace".
David Pountney's direction, coupled again with Johan Engel's set design and Adam Silvervman's lighting, emphasises the sleaziness and decadence of Anna's experiences within seven American cities as she encounters the seven sins in her quest to get money to build the family a new house. The destruction of her innocence, an innocence symbolised at the outset by Anna II's playing with a Barbie doll, and the dual effect of this destruction - the hardness of Anna I and the anguish of Anna II - are played out on a stage split between the sordid family home and a boxing ring, which, with its connotations of brutality, aptly symbolises the cities.
Choreography is by dancer Beate Vollack. One suspects it is very different from the original choreography of Balanchine but it is very effective, graphically illustrating Anna's degradation.
The response of the audience was enthusiastic and, indeed, it is hard to fault the production or the performances. Perhaps the orchestra was a little too loud occasionally but this is a very minor quibble. Following Francesca da Rimini, this was a very enjoyable, if somewhat harrowing, night of opera.
The tour continues to the Lowry, Salford Quays; the Theatre Royal, Nottingham and Sadler's Wells
Reviewer: Peter Lathan