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Arts & Culture

Staging a Double Take

New Production of Two Works by Kurt Weill Combines Opera, Dance and Theater

By Sala Levin ’10

Kurt Weill Festival

Photos by David Andrews

Set in a film studio, Maryland Opera Studio’s “Mahagonny Songspiel” features American icons Nat King Cole (Justin Harrison), James Dean (Jeremy Harr), Babe Ruth (Mike Hogue) and Charlie Chaplin (Dallas Gray). Below, Jill (Morgan Pravato) joins other toys that have come to life in MOS’s production of “Zaubernacht.”

Opera, dance performance, fairy tale and dystopian nightmare all in one—that’s what’s on the docket now at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center through an unusual double bill pairing two rarely seen pieces by a German-American composer best known for “Mack the Knife.”

Kurt Weill’s “Zaubernacht” (meaning “Magic Night”) and “Mahagonny Songspiel” are two 1920s works with seemingly nothing in common: The first is a dreamlike piece in which a fairy brings toys to life, and the second is a series of songs telling the story of six people trying to reach the mythical city of Mahagonny, only to realize it’s not as idyllic as they thought.

Directed by David Lefkowich, the liberally adapted versions at The Clarice open with a “Zaubernacht” in which enchanted toys help a young girl navigate the loss of her brother after numbing herself with technology, and after intermission, an entirely different set will host a “Mahagonny Songspiel” in which famous historic figures are making a movie about driving to Mahagonny.Kurt Weill Festival

“We stumbled on two different ideas that have really created a unifying concept for this evening,” said Lefkowich. “The first of which is that all of the characters … are in situations where they’re stuck and they’re unable to move forward for some reason.” The second connective theme, Lefkowich said, is “that use and misuse of technology can ultimately lead to the downfall of these characters and, might I even say, humanity.”

Featuring singers from the School of Music's Maryland Opera Studio and undergraduate dancers from the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies in a piece choreographed by Assistant Professor Adriane Fang, the performance is part of the School of Music’s Kurt Weill Festival, a yearlong celebration of the life of Weill that is a component of the university’s Year of Immigration. The composer, who was Jewish and fled Nazi Germany in 1933, wrote pieces that often reflected the tumultuous time in which he lived.

Dance major Lauren Waugh ’21 is performing in the modern dance-meets-ballet-meets-pantomime piece created by Fang. Playing a toy horse, Waugh said that her character is a hybrid of “an old, grumpy grandma horse who gets annoyed by all the young, very energetic other characters” and “kind of a psychologist for the child who tries to help her cope.”

Lefkowich hopes that audiences will find something in these two little-performed pieces that will resonate with their day-to-day lives. “First and foremost I’m hoping they’re entertained,” he said. “On a deeper level, we’re trying to show that in this day and age technology is seemingly a wonderful thing and we need it in our lives in order to exist, but too much of that can lead to peril. If we can accomplish just those two things, then we’ve accomplished a great service.”

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