The Seven Deadly Sins at New York City Ballet
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Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's ballet chant� (sung ballet) has a long association with George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. Originally commissioned for Balanchine's experimental Les Ballets 1933, it starred Weill's wife, singer/actress Lotte Lenya and dancer Tilly Losch. In 1958, at the suggestion of Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine revived the production for City Ballet, again starring Lotte Lenya and young dancer Allegra Kent, with a new English translation from the German by poets W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
The Seven Deadly (or Cardinal) Sins?Sloth, Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, and Envy?do not appear as such in the Bible. Since early Christian times theologians incorporated them into Church teachings as examples of sins that led to other sins. In the Weill-Brecht collaboration, these forbidden human frailties are explored in a cabaret-style melding of music, song, dance, and spectacle. A sometimes bittersweet, sometimes sardonic morality play set in an imagined America (neither composer or librettist had yet been to the United States), it tells the story of two Annas (perhaps sisters, perhaps alter-egos) as they travel to seven cities to earn enough money so their family can "build a little home down by the Mississippi in Louisiana," encountering in each city one of the title sins. The two Annas are very different: Anna 1 sings "[Anna 2's] the one with looks, I'm realistic/She's just a little mad, my head's on straight?" Weill's score combines popular music from the 1920s and 30s (foxtrots, waltzes), with a barbershop quartet, marches and hymns into a melodic symphonic whole filled with the driving rhythms and unusual orchestrations that are a hallmark of his work. Brecht's libretto has been open to various interpretations. At the 1933 premiere, audiences could see a reflection of a decadent Berlin, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and the turmoil caused by the Great Depression. Over the years, others have viewed it as Brecht's critique of capitalism. One reviewer called the current City Ballet production a depiction of a "not-so-mythical America, a world in which for the sake of money, moral values are turned sharply on their head." Choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett has commented that in light of the country's on-going political, social, and economic polarizations, the nearly 80-year-old work continues to speak to and resonate with today's audiences.