Eight Little Greats – No.6: The Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins [Libretto by Berthold Brecht;Sung in an English translation by Michael Feingold]

Anna I – Rebecca Caine
Anna II – Beate Vollack
Brothers – Iain Paton & Nicholas Sharratt
Father – Adrian Clarke
Mother – Graeme Broadbent

Orchestra of Opera North
James Holmes

Director – David Pountney
Designer – Johan Engels
Costumes – Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting – Adam Silverman
Choreography – Beate Vollack

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 24 June, 2004
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

This short Brecht/Weill collaboration is most frequently encountered in the concert-hall where some of the more distasteful aspects of the narrative can come over as somewhat sanitised. No such problems here. In David Pountney’s excellent production this modern fable of family exploitation of a young artistic woman was played out all too gruesomely and shockingly over 35 minutes.

In this production we first meet the two Annas (or facets of Anna) and their (her) family at home in Louisiana. Anna 1 – the practical Anna – sung by Rebecca Caine is elegant and stylishly dressed and presented, is contrasted with her naïve and fey sister, danced and spoken by Beate Vollack. Their odious relations send them packing on a seven-year trek around various American cities to raise money to build a home in Mississippi. As Anna II progresses she is manipulated by Anna I into prostituting herself ever more extremely in an attempt to achieve wealth, slipping deeper into destitution.

The set was dominated by a huge red boxing-ring, sitting at the end of a highway depicting the sisters’ journey across the USA. Once confined to the ring by her sister, Anna II rarely leaves it until her final, and in this production, fatal encounter with the seedier side of mankind. Beate Vollack expressed Anna II’s gradual physical and mental disintegration with some amazingly bravado dance-work – the deterioration was alarming in its clarity.

Rebecca Caine sang Anna I with much allure and a confidence befitting the sharp side of Anna’s personality, and only occasionally made recourse to chest-voice for emphasis. She moved well, and her performance of the cool, calculating Anna was certainly disturbing. Her smug self-satisfaction at the end as she settles into her Mississippi dream-house, having despatched her relatives, and effectively killed her sister, or suppressed her spiritual side – dependent on how you look at it – was absolutely chilling.

The family, which comments on much of the action and narrates the progress of the girls, was well and harmoniously sung and nicely differentiated. Dressed as country hicks their contributions to the gluttony section, as each gorged on various takeaway foods and smeared themselves with it was repellent. In particular Graeme Broadbent’s bass-voice mother made his presence felt. The diction of all the singers was impeccable.

The Orchestra, which earlier had been playing Rachmaninov as if lives depended on it, made the transition to Weill’s tense, almost brittle music amazingly. The players’ versatility has been one of the strongest features of this “Eight Little Greats” experiment. Here under the energetic James Holmes Weill’s dancing score was delivered with real panache, and there was excellent balance between voices and pit.

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