TWO BY WEILL
Written in 1929 to capitalize on their previous year’s hit, The Threepenny Opera, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s musical Happy End flopped in its premiere, and its jumbled script has dissuaded many a theater from attempting to revive it in the years since. Fortunately there’s an alternative. The Happy End Songspiel (sung here in Michael Feingold’s English translation) dispenses with the original dialogue while preserving the work’s greatest strength: its astringent yet lyrical score, in which Weill continued and even improved on Threepenny’s groundbreaking mix of classical, expressionist, and pop music. In this weekend’s performances by Northwestern University music students, his raucous music-hall numbers, grandiose religious chorales, languid tangos, and searing torch ballads (including the masterful “Surabaya Johnny,” powerfully sung by Jennifer Cho) are anchored by a simplified plot about a trio of warmongering politicians who transform a community of homeless people into an “army of the Lord,” giving them guns when they ask for soup. The students do quite well by Weill’s tunes, written for cabaret singers: with robust, well-trained voices, they give body to the long-breathed melodies, and their youthful imperfections actually suit the slightly ragged edges of Weill’s writing. Also on the program is Down in the Valley, the 1948 folk opera Weill wrote with librettist Arnold Sundgaard; specifically tailored for amateur and student singers (it premiered at Indiana University), the score joyfully runs through southern spirituals, square-dance tunes, and sentimental ballads as it relates the archetypal tale of a condemned convict who escapes from jail to rejoin his lover. Together the two one-acts, each under an hour long, make an accessible and entertaining display of the classically trained German composer’s fascination with American popular song. Directing is Rhoda Levine, whose credits include the New York City Opera’s world premiere of X, the Life and Times of Malcolm X. Friday, 8 PM, and Saturday, 2 PM, Ethel M. Barber Theater, Northwestern University, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-491-5441 or 847-467-4000. ALBERT WILLIAMS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jennifer Cho uncredited photo.