Hanging Out at Tanglewood

Tanglewood beats working… for anybody who gets to listen, and perhaps specially for the young performers who are pouring their talented hearts into the opportunity of a lifetime.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Doug Fitch, Christin-Marie Hill and Erik Nielsen here (27 minutes, 12 MB MP3)

erikson hill fitch

Erik Nielsen, conductor; Christin-Marie Hill, mezzo; and Doug Fitch, stage director at the Tanglewood Music Center.

In the theater shed on the western edge of the Tanglewood lawn I am sitting in on the rehearsal of the Kurt Weill-Bertholt Brecht masterpiece — not The Threepenny Opera but the cult classic of decadence and the new German music theater between the world wars, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Because the Boston Symphony Orchestra maestro James Levine is out sick this summer, the anything-might-happen atmosphere around the Tanglewood preparations feels a tiny bit like the no-net air of risk and revolution that hovered over the riotous, contentious first performances (with Lotte Lenya starring) in Leipzig and Frankfurt in 1930. The prophetic power of the show — its bite into our world — is one amazement. The spectacle of young professionals finding their way is another. Three of them talked with me after the first rehearsal in costume: the stand-in conductor Eric Nielson, the mezzo singing the villainous Widow Begbick, Christin-Marie Hill; and the stage director Doug Fitch.

brecht & weill

Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill

Opera is a funny world. One of the reasons “Mahagonny” is such a great thing to do is that it’s an opera at war with opera. It comes out of this Cabaret – dark, dark, dark side of burlesque… and what is opera? Opera is the polo of the culture world. It’s elite, it’s extremely expensive, you never make money on it, it’s really fun to do. And people get hurt!

Stage Director Doug Fitch in conversation with Chris Lydon, at the Tanglewood Music Center, August 1, 2008

For every age and part of the world, there is a place about which fantasies are written. In Mozart’s time it was Turkey. For Shakespeare, it was Italy. For us in Germany, it was always America. You have no idea how little we knew about America. We had read Jack London and we knew absolutely all about your Chicago gangsters, and that was the end. So of course when we did a fantasy, it was about America.

Kurt Weill, in The New Yorker: June 10, 1944

[In “Mahagonny” and our own world] …the word that comes to my mind is insatiability. It’s a constant need… For me, this opera is about the insatiable feeding of desire. It is never going to go away. And the way it’s set up… there’s no way you ever can find satisfaction or be pleased… You know, it’s called “The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny.” It doesn’t sound like it’s going to end well from the very get-go. What seems so powerful about this piece is that nobody inside the

opera knows what’s going on with them; they’re all trying to do their best. Jack, who eats himself to death, is doing this not even because he wants to eat. He’s feeling: “Have I done well enough yet?” and his friend says, “Don’t do things by half. Go all the way. Just do it,” like the Nike commercial, a major motto of our time. “Just do it.” Weill and Brecht imagined this.

Stage Director Doug Fitch in conversation with Chris Lydon, at the Tanglewood Music Center, August 1, 2008

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  • jazzman

    What happened to this site?

  • jazzman

    This is Jazzman – how did I get to be anonymous?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for fixing it.

    Peace to ALL,


  • Anonymous

    I guess it isn’t fixed quite yet – stay tuned….

  • Anonymous

    I cannot login. I have tried to change my password twice and been unable to access as Potter with those new passwords.

  • Hi, apologies for the ongoing problems with the site. We are working hard to get things fixed…

  • potter

    Hey I seem to be Potter again. Feels good! Not that anonymity hasn’t got anything going for it– Chinese potters, who were the greatest, were anonymous. The folk potters of Japan and Korea were not too bad either.

  • jazzman

    Almost fixed. The code’s still deficient in rendering apostrophes.

  • jazzman

    Apparently it’s apostrophes in past posts primarily.

    potter: Are you glad that the perfidious John Edwards isn’t the nominee?

    I am dismayed at the less than ideal conduct he has chosen and continues to display.

    Peace to ALL

  • potter

    Jazzman- Yes Edwards was a disappointment. Just shows you how blind we are when we choose. I should have taken a cue, not from his words but from his hair primping.

    Regarding the Tanglewood interviews- We actually saw the Levine -Weill “Mahagonny” production on our little Sony color TV in the late 70’s- (when WGBH was not fund-raising round the clock) and it was memorable, never left us. Teresa Stratas was singing – we love everything she does/did. But now as then, the story about the decadence of society is apt. It makes me think that this aspect has been with us forever, waxing and waning with the times. How wonderful that this work is being revived… thanks to James Levine. We wish him a solid recovery.

  • potter

    I must mention The Doors wonderful version of Weill’s “Alabama Song” from “Mahagonny” “Show me the way to the next whiskey bar…. Oh don’t ask why. Oh don’t ask why…For if… we don’t find… the next whiskey bar, I tell you we must die, I tell you we must die…… Oh mood of Alabama we now must say good-bye………


  • potter

    Sorry that should have read “Oh moon of Alabama”…

  • potter

    Oh moon of dear Obama……..

  • potter

    We now must say good Bi-den.

  • We now must say good Bi-den.