On Saturday night many of us in the audience at the Sala Ste Cecilia weren’t so much applauding the performance we had just witnessed of Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht’s Seven Deadly Sins as the sheer existence of the star performer. We were applauding her and ourselves for still being around. Like Marianne Faithful we had got through the past 40 years a bit battered, a bit bruised but still able say to the world “We’re here!”
Faithful has reinvented herself several times now – as a singer, an actress, a writer and now as what they use to call in the old days a diseuse. It is interesting to note that though the programme note told us we were hearing the arrangement for contralto, she was listed simply as “voce” or voice. And even someone as steeped in nostalgia as I have to admit there really isn’t much of a voice left – but what she has is an incredible ability to communicate. Using a variation on the Auden-Kallman English translation she sang-spoke Brecht’s story of Anna, a little girl from Louisiana who goes to the big cities to make her fortune. She sends all her money home to her moralistic pontificating family so they can build a little house on the Mississippi.
Originally conceived as a ballet-opera Brecht uses the conceit of two Anna’s – Anna I, the singer, who by her own admission is “realistic” and Anna II, the dancer, who is “the one with the looks.” All the while her travels – through St Louis (Sloth), Memphis (Pride), Los Angeles (Wrath), Philadelphia (Gluttony), Boston (Lust), Baltimore (Avarice), San Francisco (Envy) – are commented on by her family – in the form of a barbershop quartet. Brecht’s intent is satirical: Anna II only does wrong when she refuses to commit the sin required to earn the money. She tries to do the right think but is always brought back to “reality” by Anna I and her hypocritical family. The only thing the defeated Anna II ever says is “Right, Anna.”
Under Ingo Metzmacher the Orchestra treated Weill’s music to the glowing performance it deserved – I happen to believe Weill is one of the 20th century greats. And it would be hard to imagine better harmonies than those produced by Mark Bleeke, Eric Edlund, Peter Becker and Wilbur Pauley – the Hudson Shad Quartet. Special praise to Bleeke, who despite a few wayward notes, sang Weill’s particularly difficult tenor line effectively. Though the text was printed in the programme the skill of all the performers in delivering the English text made it almost unnecessary.
Laurent was not as enamored of the performance as I – which could have something to do with those clouds of nostalgia – and at one point muttered that he wanted his Weill sung the way Teresa Stratas or Ute Lemper does it – not croaked. And though I am a big Stratas fan, I was more than happy with the experience. It is funny how nostalgia can alter perception.
28 aprile – San Pietro Chanel