Marikana to Mahagonny directed by Dr. Pamela Tancsik is an adaptation of the seldom performed masterful operatic song play by iconic German powerhouse music makers – Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. It is currently playing at the DUT Courtyard Theatre having started yesterday and will run until August 31, nightly at 7.30pm.

Tancsik adapted the opera to reference the Marikana tragedy – the aftermath of which is the opening scene – told through song set against the backdrop of the watershed documentary, Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai.

Marikana to Mahagonny is a new staging of Mahagonny Songplay – a precursor to the opera,  Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (adapted from the German: Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) a political-satirical opera composed by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht.

The lack of hope, social decay, moral collapse and focus on money above all else as referenced in the original opera struck a chord with Tancsik who draws comparisons with contemporary South Africa.

Tancsik was herself in a production of Mahagonny Songplay in 1999 in its original German, conducted by Dr. David Smith with Suzy Stengel.

A scene from the production featuring Sanele Mbanjwa, Sinqobile Kunene (green dress with roses), Noxolo Mbothwe (blue and purple dress).

Kurt Julian Weill active from the 1920’s was a leading German composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. Weill’s score uses a number of styles, including ragtime, jazz and formal counterpoint notably in Benares Song, and the Alabama Song. 

The starting point of the production was a series of poems penned by Brecht, Hauspostille,  which were adapted to music by Weill in order to enter a festival competition in 1927 in Baden-Baden.

“The music is really complex and interesting. It was considered a new sound – using strong jazz influences and a Gershwin feel. It is vivace – fast and not easy to play or perform as was created for a full orchestra, now condensed down to a solo piano,” explained Musical Director Richardt Wissink.  

The full-scale opera, Rise, and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was first performed on 9 March 1930 in the Neues Teater in Leipzig. The opera was banned by the Nazis in 1933 due to its socialist content and did not have a significant production until the 1960’s.

The sung-through dark scenic cantata for eight principal actors and a chorus supports a socialist/communist ideology and is hugely critical of capitalistic greed; in Mahagonny, poverty is not just a condition the poor bring upon themselves, but a crime to be punished.

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