The Wild West, Florida hurricanes, and German musical theater swirl together this month on the stages of Los Angeles and Boston opera houses. The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in 1920s Germany, is a morality play about greed, capitalism, and the nature of man. Mahagonny is an imaginary city on the Florida coast, a setting chosen because of the image conveyed by Florida in the 1920s, with its boom and crash, and deadly hurricanes. The opera’s setting is a bit confused by references to gold prospecting, despite the use of Florida place names such as Pensacola and Atsena. Florida’s popular image was a glamorous yet exotic land of wild excesses. Although the fictional city narrowly misses a hurricane’s destruction, man cannot escape his depravity.
Brecht and Weill collaborated on several plays, the best known being The Three Penny Opera. Three Penny Opera gave popular music the song “Mack the Knife,” and Mahagonny gave us the “Alabama Song”, covered by Jim Morrison of The Doors, and David Bowie.