Which way does the dialectic fall? In the 1920s, Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht collaborates with socialist composer Kurt Weill on The Threepenny Opera, a satire on capitalist excesses mirrored in a criminal underworld. Some 30 years later, Bobby Darin has a hit (in very capitalist terms) record delivering the lyrics to Threepenny‘s most famous number, “Mack the Knife.” With finger-popping, lounge-singer cool, Darin croons about “old MacHeath’s jackknife” and “a body just oozin’ life.” The song enters the pop repertoire. On YouTube, various versions can be sampled, including an unintentionally hilarious duet in which a hip Pearl Bailey attempts to parse the lyrics for a square Dinah Shore. As for Weill? Fleeing Nazi Germany, he detours to Paris before ending up in America and writing some memorable show tunes.
This weekend, Symphony Silicon Valley presents “Kurt Weill: Berlin, Paris, New York,” a classical cabaret, with soprano Lisa Vroman performing a spectrum of Kurt Weill compositions, from The Threepenny Opera Suite (including “Mack the Knife”) and the Seven Deadly Sins to a selection of Weill’s later songs, most notably “Lost in the Stars.”
Vroman remembers hearing Darin’s “Mack” when she was young, in “Ella Fitzgerald’s arrangement. My father was a big fan of hers.” The soprano, a veteran of many musicals, first appeared in Threepenny onstage for ACT. She is also well practiced at Seven Deadly Sins, a song-dance work that Weill and Brecht (with choreography by Balanchine) wrote in 1933. The piece tells the story of two Annas—either sisters or perhaps two personas in one body—who travel America experiencing Wrath (L.A.), Lust (Boston), Envy (San Francisco) and the rest before settling down in rural Louisiana.
Vroman describes Seven Deadly Sins as “a unique being” that is usually “done with a singer and a dancer, who are two halves of one person” and a male quartet representing members of their family. There will be no dancing for Symphony Silicon Valley, but as Vroman explains, “I have done it with a dancer, which is easy to understand. Now, I do it as a concert, but there are things I can do that can help audiences distinguish between the two Annas.” roman learned Seven Deadly Sins “while doing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I would put my headphones on and ride the A Train back and forth and nod along to Weill and speak in German.” Vroman has appeared with Symphony Silicon Valley for a performance of the Brahms Requiem and two Broadway in Concert shows. She says that she is looking forward to a return to the California Theatre, which she calls “a beautiful jewel box, where the acoustics are fantastic.”