Although playwright Georg Kaiser was Kurt Weill’s collaborator for The Silver Lake, James Conway’s production for English Touring Opera still feels thoroughly Brechtian.
The piece premiered in 1933, shortly before Weill was forced to flee Germany. His premonition of the Nazi regime was immediately banned and not performed again for many years.
It’s a very strange mixture of gritty realism and convoluted fantasy. Conway’s staging makes it apparent why it hasn’t been frequently revived. There are vague echoes of Les Misérables to the story but instead of stealing a loaf of bread, the starving Severin pinches a pineapple, a luxury good. This triggers a crisis of conscience on the part of Olim – the police officer who shoots him – who then takes him in as a companion and simultaneously inherits a castle and a fortune. This odd narrative is rendered even more muddy by Conway’s patchy storytelling style.
Adam Wiltshire’s industrial-style design and David W Kidd’s murky lighting effectively communicates the soul-sapping greyness of impoverished interwar Germany.
It’s not the fault of David Webb and Ronald Samm as Severin and Olim that they struggle to create three-dimensional characters from the source material. Luci Briginshaw livens things up for a bit as Fennimore, a poor relation of the castle housekeeper, giving a vivacious rendition of the Ballad of Caesar’s Death.
Some of the choral singing, poignantly boosted by a community chorus from Streetwise Opera, is also beautiful and there is genuine catharsis at the end, but in spite of themes that are all too relevant, both the piece and the production struggle to consistently connect on an emotional level.