The music of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil would sit happily in any music festival, whatever the genre. Their work, both together and individually, defined an era and inspired and informed generations of writers, directors and performers. So, in principal, an evening of their songs slotted in very nicely to Operadagen – not very avant-garde now, but they were ground-breakers in their day.
Groschenblues was the most show-bizzy event of the Festival hosted by popular Dutch entertainer Sven Ratzke and the ubiquitous Claron McFadden whose fourth or fifth appearance in the Festival this was. In fact, with Mr Ratzke’s one-piece black flared trouser and shirt outfit, his wide-shouldered black bolero jacket, quaffed hair and three inch heels, it was probably a bit too show-biz. Camp and glitter is fine for Cabaret but not for Die Dreigroschenoper or Happy End.
That said, there was some really good stuff here, some sung in German, some in English. The show opened, predictably enough, with Mack the Knife sung by Sven Ratzke who then proceeded to get us in the mood by describing, in English, the low-life bars and whore houses of old Berlin – tell us about it, thought the Rotterdam audience.
Claron McFadden is a fine and versatile performer able to turn her hand, it seems, to any genre. Her rendition of Surabaya Johnny from Happy End, sung perched on a high stool next to the grand piano, was probably her best moment. For Mr Ratzke it was undoubtedly Der Matrosen-Tango (Das Meer ist blau, so blau), again from Happy End.
Throughout the evening, the two singers received excellent support from the four-piece band. There was a piano, double-bass, drums and Fay Lovsky, a multi-instrumentalist who demonstrated her talents on vibraphone, guitar, banjo, musical saw and various whistles and bells. She also raised a few puzzled looks from the audience when she brought out her old-fashioned ring modulator.
This gizmo was an early attempt at electronic music in the nineteen-forties and fifties and, although never mainstream, was usurped when the first synthesizers came along. It produces high-pitched tones which are regulated by the musician moving their hands over the instrument’s two aerials, I suppose you’d call them. It was used a couple of times on Ms McFadden songs as it was able to match, and hold for much longer, her high notes, a situation which she found a little exasperating – all in good humoured fun though.
These, needless to say, are all great songs and they were performed by two accomplished professional artistes but because of the glitzy presentation I don’t feel Groschenblues sat very happily in the assertively avant-garde Operadagen. It was entertaining enough as a show but this could have been any Saturday night in any provincial theatre in the Netherlands. Michael Hasted 27th May 2018
Photo by Hanneke Kuijpers