Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Kurt Weill

March 23, 2015



TITLE:  Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny)



This is a nihilistic opera.  In a nutshell, it is about some people who decide to build a new city (sort of like Las Vegas) where people can drink and party and gamble.  It grows in popularity and becomes quite the city, then, when a natural disaster threatens it, some of the citizens pray and others state that there is no God.  When the threat is over, most of the people decide that life is short and there is no God, so they should just party even more.  (Note: to any purists reading this very haphazard summary, I realize I may be a bit off, but that’s the gist of it.)


Despite the storyline, it’s got some great music and when I was in Vienna a few years ago, I went to see numerous productions at the Staatsoper but this was my favorite one (in terms of theatrical interest/quality of production/overall effect); a number of our students also went and one of them listed it as his favorite as well.


My favorite elements within this opera are the unique instruments included in the orchestra, such as the banjo.  Here is a cool moment in the opening number in which the banjo first becomes apparent:



And continuing on from that, jazzy trumpets join in:



HIGHLIGHT:  The Alabama Song—This is sung by a madame of sorts and her fellow prostitutes as they express their life goals—drinking, money, and men.  It is one of two songs in the opera that are sung in English while the rest is in German.

Here’s the beginning of it, as performed by one opera company:



And here’s the second verse, performed by a different opera company:



Here’s a YouTube link of the whole song:



When I first saw this opera, the Alabama Song was my instant favorite.  In fact, when I got back to our apartment (in Vienna) I got online to find other versions of it and discovered that it has become a favorite of cabaret singers and pop singers.


Here’s a brief excerpt from a version by Marianne Faithful



And here’s a YouTube link to the best cover of this tune (in my opinion).  It’s a cover by The Doors.



WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY WEILL?: A bunch.  I had seen his best-known theatre piece—“The Three-Penny Opera”—when I was an undergrad, but I hadn’t heard a lot of his classical works until I saw “Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny.”