Review: The Seven Deadly Sins, Streamed from Leeds Playhouse, Saturday 21st November 2020

KURT Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeosie - to give the full title, would have been Opera North’s first production staged in front of a live audience since early March. Lockdown 2 has unfortunately scuppered that plan. Contingent on the tortuous route out of tiered restrictions, the Leeds based company hopes to tour Gary Clarke’s fluid new production of The Sins early next year. Meanwhile, last Saturday’s livestream from the stage of an empty Leeds Playhouse was more than sufficient to whet the appetite.

Although Weill and Bertold Brecht’s last major collaboration is described as a sung ballet, this delightful rarity can just as easily be enjoyed as an engaging piece of music theatre from the inter-World War years.

Edward James, a wealthy Englishman commissioned The Sins in 1933. James insisted that his wife Tilly Losch, a ballerina of some renown, danced the principal role of Anna opposite the legendary singer Lottie Lenya aka Mrs Kurt Weill. The audience thus meets two personalities who represent both sides of the same coin.

In Opera North’s production Anna l is wonderfully portrayed by soprano Wallis Giunta who projects the ideal blend of sophistication and nonchalance. Anna ll is danced with athletic grace, expression and more than a hint of pathos by Shelley Eva Haden.

The two Annas’ quest to make money for their insufferable family and buy a little house beside the wide Mississippi, takes them to seven big US cities. En route, Anna l and Anna ll encounter the seven deadly sins: sloth, pride, wrath, gluttony, lust, greed and envy. That’s one sin in each city.

The aforementioned obnoxious family which commentates and carps at every stage is energetically sung by members of the Chorus of Opera North. HK Gruber’s and Christian Muthspiel’s orchestration for fifteen musicians ingeniously matches the character and timbres of Weill’s original version for full orchestra. The American musical styles which include foxtrot, polka and barbershop are brilliantly executed by members of the Orchestra of Opera North conducted by Weill expert James Holmes. It is just so very sad that, despite the most stringent covid-secure measures in the theatre, this production cannot yet be experienced by a live audience.

Geoffrey Mogridge