When i got the notification many weeks ago that fellow Opera Viva member GM — a Canadian– was going to sing Kurt Weill songs at her home in Blair Road, I signed up, even tho I knew nuts about Weill or his songs.
Sure, her flyer said it would be an evening of “intense, original, theatrical music of perhaps one of the most influential, and unique composers of the twentieth century, Kurt Weill.”
Still, i really LBK or catch no ball as they say in local parlance.
What I knew was that I wanted to support GM because I’ve been to her volunteer performances at our bi-monthly Opera Viva gatherings and she really sings with the voice in turns of an angel and a Molly Malone.
Western opera has a way of overcoming conventional language to speak directly to the mind and heart, something that Pei has put so evocatively and accurately in her blog and which I reproduce below:
“I don’t know if I like Opera. I know I am in love with the emotions conveyed. I love how my goosebumps and breath foretell my reactions before I can sense it. I love the way I gaze at the performer with such detailed imagery in my head when I don’t know what he is singing about”.
Back to GM’s home performance.
Last Saturday, some 30 of us friends and acquaintances turned up for that Homage to Wayward Women made up of Weill’s songs that would take us “through Germany between the wars, where theater was tearing away at convention, creating perhaps some of the most riveting, groundbreaking musical theater of our century, all the way to Hollywood California in the 30’s, where Weill fled from Nazi Germany and continued his career as one of America’s leading composers”.
But the piece de resistance that nite was not food, drinks or networking but GM’s 45-minute vocal gymnastics, accompanied enthusiastically by JS on the piano, in an upstairs room dressed up like an old boudoir, somewhat tacky yet so atmospheric and electrifying, thanks to the dim lighting and a red shawl draped carelessly around a naked light bulb. And what happened subsequently.
The show opened memorably enough with GM dressed like a condemned serial killed about to be executed, stumbling into the room in red overalls and her hands and feet shackled. She looked evil in a way she never looked before at her Opera Viva performances and spoke in a language so full of expletives that i was afraid room might turn blue.
Then she broke into her opening number, the foot tapping, Mack the Knife, and then I went, hur, this is Kurt Weill? OK, I’d enjoy.
After that she stumbled off to her “execution”, cussing n swearing, only to return dressed like a waitress (?) to start a spiel interrupted by someone in black leather in the audience looking every inch a typical Heil Hitler youth who, in turn, was interrupted by a black woman sitting in front of him, telling him to shut up.
Was the interruption for real or was it part of the performance? I’m not sure how many in the audience thought it was play acting and how many thought an altercation had actually broken out.
Our perception wavered, when the man flung a crushed empty beer can at GM and the black woman who, after a slight interval, took out a plastic bag and went and picked it up, at which point GM interrupted her act to say “it’s all right, it’s part of the show.”
But the black woman didn’t seem mollified. She muttered and made other sounds, clapping at inappropriate places, and then, when the Nazi-like interrupter took to the front of the room and danced with GM as they sang together (proving that he, at least, was part of the act!), she took out the beer can she had collected and flung it viciously at him.
From that point I think the audience sitting cheek by jowl, in cosy, intimate fashion, suddenly came to a collective silent decision that she wasn’t part of the act. A frisson of fear went thru us, especially me who was sitting next to her, separated by a narrow space.
Nobody dared look to the right where she was as (I think) everyone thought it unwise to catch her eye. The songs went on, interspersed each time beforehand by a soliloquy by GM to explain the sad, drugged, homeless, unloved, sex-seller life of one particular woman or another she was portraying.
Perhaps the black woman thought she deserved to be portrayed too? 😀
Thankfully, she left even as GM went into her final number, Moon of Alabama, to much applause. For GM, I mean.
Oh Moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey … you know why
Excerpts from Kurt Weill’s Surabaya Johnny:
When we met I forgot to ask you
why they called you that funny name,
but in every hotel on the seacoast
I found out, and I loved you all the same.
I’m tired. I’m worn out.
The sea’s pounding in my ears.
And I reach out my arms to hold you.
You’re not here and who even cares?
You got no heart, Johnny. You’re just no good.
You going now? Oh, tell me why.
I love you after all, Johnny, like that very first day.
Don’t laugh at me no more, Johnny.