Monday, January 07, 2013

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny  The 1956 recording
Music from my childhood. I don't remember ever not understanding that the lyrics and music both exemplified everything they could be thought of as mocking or undermining. Before opposing the decadence of Weimar, they were and are Weimar. I've always wanted to stage Der Jasager, which was written as a Schuloper or "school-opera" with the students as Hitlerjugend.  [Brecht, and Pinter, from 2004]

The recording is from 1993. I don't like it much. I have the 1965 recording on Polydor, which I love, again from childhood.
Act I

The chorus announces the theme of the work: When you agree to a course of action, you must understand it fully ("Wichtig zu lernen"). The teacher, who keeps a school in the city, enters. He hopes to bid farewell to one of his students before he goes off on a trip over the mountains ("Ich bin der Lehrer"). At the house, he asks the boy why he has not been to school recently, and the boy replies that his mother has been ill. The teacher describes his trip to the mother, who asks if he wants to bring the boy along ("Ich bin lange nicht hier gewesen"). The boy asks to make the trip ("Ich muss etwas sagen"). The teacher forbids him--the journey is too long and difficult and he should stay home. But the boy reminds him that he is visiting a great physician, who might be able to help his mother. His mother reluctantly allows the boy to make the trip ("Ich bin noch einmal zurückgekommen"). The chorus reinforces the decision ("Sie sahen, dass keine Vorstellungen").

Act II

The chorus explains that the teacher, the boy, and three older students are on the way back, and the boy is exhausted ("Die Leute haben die Reise in die Berge"). As they approach their shelter, the boy confesses that he is not well ("Wir sind schnell hinangestiegen"). The teacher tells him it is forbidden to say such things on the journey, but the three students have overheard and demand to speak to the teacher. He admits that the boy is ill, and the students remind him of the strict old custom that whoever falls ill during the journey over the mountains must be hurled into the valley ("Wir wollen es dem Lehrer sagen"). The teacher reminds them that the sick person may also demand that the entire party turn back. Then he goes to the boy and offers him the choice ("Höre gut zu"). The boy decides that he knew the risks and should not impede the expedition. He asks only that the three students fill his jar with medicine and take it to his mother, and they agree. Then the three students bear him gently to the cliff and throw him over. The chorus reiterates the theme ("Wichtig zu lernen" reprise).


Martin Puchner, Stage Fright  Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama

What is neglected in these accounts of Brecht’s lasting success in the theater is that his work is not so much a modernist reform of the theater as one directed against it. Indeed, the most central features of Brecht’s theater arise from a vehement and at times fundamental polemic against actors and the audience. And so we must recognize that Brecht counts as one of modernism’s most successful theater reformers because he was most successful in making his resistance to the theater productive for a reform of the theater. This resistance to the theater is visible in Brecht’s attacks on expressionist plays, on the theater industry, and on Max Reinhardt’s seductive spectacles. His most categorical and fundamental condemnation of the theater emerges, however, when he, like many turn-of-the-century and early-twentieth-century reformers, speaks against the figure whose ex- ploitation of theatricality never ceased to haunt modern theater, namely, Richard Wagner. 

What was neglected was what I took for granted, because felt in my bones, as a ten year old. 

I found Puchner's book years later after deciding I should try to distinguish Brechtian decadence from classical Japanese theater, formalism from formality. Brecht's theater is mannerist: simultaneously moralizing and corrupted. 

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