a Company for carrying on an Undertaking of Great Advantage, but Nobody to know what it is

November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Of all the operas written during Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-33), probably the most haunting is the last.

Kurt Weill’s The Silver Lake, written with playwright Georg Kaiser, tells the story of two losers – a good-hearted provincial cop and the thief he has shot and wounded – as they make their way through a society ruined by unemployment, corruption and vice.

After spending a week again in Greece – amid riots, hunger and far right violence – I finally understood it.

The opera was meant to be Weill’s path back into the mainstream. It was his first break from collaborating with Bertolt Brecht, and was scheduled to open simultaneously in three German cities on 18 February 1933.

But on 30 January Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor.

The first performances of The Silver Lake were disrupted by Nazi activists in the audience and on 4 March 1933 it was banned. The score was torched, together with its set designs, in the infamous book-burning ceremony outside the opera house in Berlin.

It is easy to see why the Nazis didn’t like The Silver Lake. Weill was Jewish; the Nazi theatre critics found the music “ugly and sick”. Moreover the plot contains an allegory of the political situation on the eve of the Nazis’ rise to power.

But there has always been something else about The Silver Lake that goes beyond politics. Something hard to fathom.

Spending time in Greece, as the far right Golden Dawn party breaks up theatre performances with impunity, and street violence is common, I finally know what that something is.  read more

ART: Wyndham Lewis

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