Review: The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

The singers give it all their worth in this production; spreading it throughout the venue proves attractive and frustrating

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Olympia Theatre, Dublin


Mahagonny, the city of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's imagination, is a city in the middle of nowhere. It's a kind of a misbegotten cross between Las Vegas and its excesses, and the Erewhon of Samuel Butler's 1872 novel, where the inversions of values see people receiving sympathy for having committed crimes, but being incarcerated for being sick.


All of the familiar vices of human society are freely indulged in the sharp satire of Mahagonny, and the moral compass is skewed to the point where a court acquits a murderer — in the absence of testimony from the injured party — and a man is condemned to death for the heinous crime of having no money.

The new Rough Magic/Opera Theatre Company production of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny switches things around in Dublin's Olympia Theatre, too. The orchestra under David Brophy sprawls through the stalls. The rear of the stage holds part of the audience, and the cast roam through stalls, circles, boxes and pit as well as stage.

It’s an attractive idea but at times a frustrating one, too. It has the strings of the orchestra in the open, as it were, with the rest of the players under the overhang of the circle, and this mutes the edge of the wind-rich, jazzy aspects of the scoring. I sat at the front of the circle, but the best perspective, I suspect, is probably provided by the onstage seating.

In terms of recent Irish opera productions, the conception of director Lynne Parker and designer Aedin Cosgrove brings to mind the 2012 Leoncavallo Pagliacci at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork, which strayed out of the auditorium into the foyer and beyond onto the street with an integrated thoroughness this Mahagonny simply doesn't match.

The singers, dressed by costume designer Consolata Boyle in a range of snazzy, 20th-century styles, give it all they're worth. Claudia Boyle stands out for her operatic composure as the seductive prostitute Jenny. Julian Hubbard seems too nice, too lightweight as the Alaskan lumberjack, Jimmy. There's nothing either nice or lightweight in John Molloy's bellowing Trinity Moses, who commands attention whatever he's up to. And Anne Marie Gibbons is also totally sure as the manipulative Begbick.

Jenny’s six girls (Rachel Croash, Sarah Shine, Jean Wallace, Laura Murphy, Gemma Ní Bhriain and Dominica Williams) are as active and hardworking as the stentorian male chorus, who seem to be taken to every possible part of the house. Their fervency reaches its peak at the right moment, with the work’s closing message, “Nothing you can do will help a dead man.”

Until Sunday, June 22nd

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor