I wouldn’t call myself a Kurt Weill aficionado but I have been aware of his music since I was about fifteen and I was involved with the first ever UK production of Happy End at the Edinburgh Festival many years ago. But I have to confess this is the first time I have seen, or heard in full, Lady in the Dark which was not staged in the UK until 1981.
First produced on Broadway in 1941, this is very much a musical of that era and in no way could be described as an opera. But that is no reason why an opera company should not take it on and that is exactly what OperaZuid has done, and very successfully.
In a nutshell, the show is about an outwardly successful fashion magazine editor, Liza Elliott, who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She can’t decide which lover to go with or which cover to use for the next magazine. She needs to be more decisive, but can’t make up her mind. She sees a psychoanalyst and Lady in the Dark basically consists of a series of set pieces based on her dreams and on-the-couch recollection – the dark being the recesses of her mind. And, in another nutshell, it all boils down to the snippet of a tune which haunts her and which provides the piece’s leitmotif. She can’t remember the words and the complete song seems to hold the key to all her problems. That song, which we finally hear, is My Ship and is really the only well-known one in the show.
As I said, this is really a classic Broadway musical complete with white tie, top hat and tails – and nobody can question its credentials. With a book by Moss Hart and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, it had everything going for it. One wonders why it is not performed more often. OperaZuid’s production certainly poses that question.
Anna Pool’s production has all the glitz and glitter of “a big show” with Madeleine Boyd’s beautiful décor and costumes oozing 1940s America. Of all the set pieces the circus sequence at the beginning of the second half was by far the most spectacular. A ballet was de rigueur in Broadway musicals at the time and choreographer Rebecca Howell, aided by a gravity defying aerial silks act by Dreya Weber, undoubtedly provided the high-spot of the evening.
The strong cast was led by Maartje Rammeloo as the self-doubting magazine editor. She was totally believable and sang and acted convincingly. All the men were excellent but for me it was Simon Butteriss, in numerous guises, who was outstanding.
In the pit, the Philharmonie Zuidnederland under the baton of David Stern produced all the authentic sounds and Ms Pool’s direction set and maintained a steady pace throughout. Kurt Weill’s work, with or without Bertold Brecht, is a little out of fashion at the moment. OperaZuid’s Lady in the Dark, a co-production with Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxemboug, could well spark a revival. Michael Hasted 6th December 2022