“Show me the way to the next whisky bar …” English audiences watching from today might find the words of Alabama Song – the earworm number from Weill and Brecht’s Mahagonny, covered by everyone from Bette Midler to David Bowie – especially timely, but for nearly a century Weill and Brecht’s satires have rarely felt less than topical. In this double bill it is The Seven Deadly Sins that hits its mark most surely, staged by Isabelle Kettle as an up-to-date story of double standards. It is, in many ways, what we’ve been waiting for from the Royal Opera this last pandemic year: a production conceived for filming, harnessing the company’s young artists team and making imaginative use of the theatre.
Weill and Brecht split their protagonist in two. Aspiring star Anna I is Stephanie Wake-Edwards, her fruity mezzo-soprano full of scope; Anna II is Jonadette Carpio, who dances Julia Cheng’s loose-limbed, frenetic choreography vividly. Anna I stays in her dressing room, a brightly lit box, and there’s a lovely moment when we find that the set, designed by Lizzie Clachan, is not oriented as we think. The cameras capture Anna I’s dwindling confidence as she binge-eats and finally washes down pills with whisky; Anna II’s anger rises in counterweight as each attempt to succeed is crushed, whether by a predatory photographer, danced by Thomasin Gülgeç, or by the four male singers who repeatedly undermine Anna in chorus.
Ensemble between the singers and the orchestra, conducted by Michael Papadopoulos, is tight in this, occasionally less so in Mahagonny Songspiel, presented on the Opera House’s grassed-over stalls area as though on a football pitch. The four men and Wake-Edwards return, joined by Kseniia Nikolaieva. Their songs tell a story of decline, but the women at least are already zombie-like, makeup smeared. It feels less focused, but showcases some impressive voices, especially Filipe Manu’s tenor and Blaise Malaba’s bass.