— At the Festival

Published on July 15 2019


Grandeur et Décadence de la Ville de Mahagonny de Kurt Weill – mise en scène Ivo van Hove – direction musicale Esa-Pekka Salonen – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2019 © Pascal Victor artcompress
Grandeur et Décadence de la Ville de Mahagonny de Kurt Weill – mise en scène Ivo van Hove – direction musicale Esa-Pekka Salonen – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2019 © Pascal Victor artcompress


Ivo van Hove’s new staging of “Mahagonny” [...] is, quite simply, enjoyable. [...] Much of the joy of this “Mahagonny” comes from witnessing two masters at work: Mr. van Hove, whose concept is both true to his style and in tune with Brecht’s intentions, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose conducting of Weill’s score may be the finest I’ve heard, especially as played by the reliably impressive Philharmonia Orchestra.
[Esa-Pekka Salonen’s] conducting is reason alone to see this Mahagonny.


The Festival d’Aix offers a great production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. From the very first scene, the Belgian director proves that he understands this work. [...] With very few elements, Ivo van Hove shapes a storyline that is continuously transforming, and places each of the independent scenes in its own context. [...] Ivo van Hove also knows how to elicit great acting not only from the three singers mentioned above (Karita Mattila in the role of the widow Begbick, Alan Oke as Fatty, and Willard White as Moses), but also the entire cast, led by the tenor Nikolai Schuckoff (as Jim Mahoney) and the soprano Annette Dasch (as Jenny Hill).


At the Festival d’Aix, Ivo van Hove takes great pleasure in mischievously constructing and deconstructing the utopian mirage of Mahagonny. In a production that is both playful and harsh, the director turns Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “trick city” into a film set that is simultaneously joyfully-effervescent and profoundly-disillusioned, translating into a spectacular urban insurrection.
The [staging] is ludic and joyful.
All [of the performers] fall under the musical direction—full of vibrant rhythms and dazzling sounds—of Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra and its especially remarkable brass and percussion sections.



Today, video is as naturally a part of theater and opera as lighting effects and a rotating stage. The new generation can probably no more imagine theater without video, as they can communication without a smartphone. It is no longer a question of whether to do it, but rather of how it should be done.
Ivo van Hove uses the oversized video wall installed on the stage, in addition to the functioning podium that overlooks it—and later, the three large windmills that replace the hurricane—for close-ups that allow the audience to read the performers’ facial expressions.
Van Hove refuses any frills or adornments. He focuses his directing on personal conduct, especially with the chorus, who are almost always present and are a core element of the play. The initial applause was nearly unanimous. Nikolai Schukoff was especially appreciated as Jim Mahoney. The same goes for the extremely talented Annette Dasch in the role of Jenny, the prostitute who knows that “in this world you must make your own bed”; and for Karita Mattila, in the role of Begbick, the resourceful widow. However, the London Philharmonia Orchestra and its conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen received the most fervent applause. Salonen defined precise contours for Kurt Weill’s score, leaving room for each of the different musical arrangements while still harmoniously respecting Bertolt Brecht’s libretto, which is linguistically beautiful and fascinating. Is the play outdated? Only as outdated as the image of a society in which lack of money is the worst crime.