LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Die Dreigroschenoper
PERFORMER: Max Raabe, HK Gruber, Nina Hagen, Sona MacDonald; Ensemble Modern/HK Gruber
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 66133 2
The Brecht/Weill Dreigroschenoper is such a seminal masterpiece of 20th-century music -theatre that it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the work has been recorded relatively infrequently. No doubt potential interpreters have been inhibited by the continued presence in the catalogue of the classic Lotte Lenya recording on Sony from the late Fifties, not to mention the historic abridged version, also featuring Lenya, which was transferred from 78 rpm records onto the Capriccio label. For Weill enthusiasts these two performances remain indispensable, but there was still an urgent need for a more up-to-date interpretation which enjoyed the benefits of better sound.
In many respects this new recording fits the bill. Utilising a newly prepared edition by Stephen Hinton and Edward Harsh that provides more extensive material than any of its rivals, the overall direction packs a far greater punch than the comparatively sluggish John Mauceri on a 1991 Decca release. Furthermore, the idiosyncrasies of Weill’s instrumentation, which include such exotic sounds as the wonderful Hawaiian guitar and the bandoneon, are much better projected by the virtuoso players of the Ensemble Modern. As far as the singers are concerned, the Decca set possibly has the edge with the charismatic Ute Lemper and veteran opera stars RenÈ Kollo and Helge Dernesch making a strong impression. With the obvious exception of the inimitable HK Gruber, the present cast sound less well-defined, and I’m not entirely convinced by the unpleasantly asthmatic tones of Nina Hagen’s Frau Peachum which to my mind veer dangerously close to parody. But as a theatrical experience and as a reminder of the sardonic criticism of society that lies at the heart of the work, there is no question that the new version is the more compelling. Erik Levi