The ever-questing Gotham Chamber Opera mounts a daring back-to- the-future show, reinterpreting a lodestar of Weimar-era artistic modernism: four avant-garde one-acts staged at Germany’s cutting-edge Baden-Baden Festival in 1927. It’s a varied program, musically and in spirit: Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel, Paul Hindemith’s There and Back, Darius Milhaud’s The Abduction of Europa and Ernst Toch’s The Princess and the Pea.
Weill and his librettist, Bertolt Brecht, later turned their seven-number “scenic cantata,” which starred Lotte Lenya, into a full-blown opera; the Songspiel is its tunefully abrasive core. Hindemith reverses narrative time to produce comedy from tragedy. Milhaud condenses a Greek myth, with mooing chorus, and Toch’s comedy freshens up a Hans Christian Andersen tale. Just six years later, the Nazi ascension barred all four composers from performance, for reasons of race, politics and/or sensibility.
Reliably inspired director Paul Curran’s production utilizes Neo-Expressionist sets by Georg Baselitz, one of Germany’s most transformative and esteemed artists. Gotham’s imaginative founder, Neal Goren, leads a promising cast, including the dynamic rising mezzo Jennifer Rivera, veteran Met bass John Cheek and one of the most-recorded classical singers ever: Helen Donath, whose glorious five-decade career in Europe has only allowed New York brief (if wonderful) glimpses of the still-radiant-sounding Texas soprano.—David Shengold