Saturday, April 14, 2007

Speak Low

Why this fascination with Kurt Weill? Here Lies Jenny, Mahagonny, Street Scene, and this CD from 1994. Weill lies on the border between classical and pop, opera and musical, European and American, serious and trivial. Understanding Weill means understanding the role of style in interpreting any work.

Curious things to notice include the fact that he collaborated with Bertolt Brecht for only about three years. It seems like a vast expanse, but includes only Dreigroschenoper, Mahagonny and something called “Die Sieben Todsuenden” or Seven Deadly Sins, recorded here by Anne Sofie von Otter. If there are 100 more things Weill and Brecht did together, look them up in Wikipedia.

I must say I like von Otter here as I have not before. Both her German and her English are excellent. Remember she’s Swedish. Coolness in the face of decadence may be just what we were looking for. She has style to burn.

Brecht turned on Weill, thought him guilty of seeking mere capitalistic success. Weill wanted to get ahead. Imagine that.

What was Brecht’s problem? In the "Seven Deadly Sins" two sisters named Anna I who sings and Anna II who dances leave their home in Louisiana and travel to Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco seeking success. Brecht seems to have been fascinated by places in America—remember Mahagonny was in Alabama. We are synonymous with capitalism for him.

The moral is disturbing: “Eat not and drink not and don’t be lazy, think of the punishment which is the cost of love! Don’t waste youth, for it passes quickly.” Could Brecht be your ordinary moralist? Fundamentalism without God? He loves to push your nose into the trashy and immoral to show you how bad you’ve got it.

The problem is we adore this low life “Speak Low” trash in the voice of Kurt Weill. I think the moral isn’t working.

This is really sweet!

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