Large, Hudson Shad, BBCSO, Gaffigan, Barbican

11.24.16
Storm Large
The Arts Desk

Has there ever been a more pertinent time to revive the poetic mythologies of Brecht and Weill? The writer said that the good-life-for-dollars city of Mahagonny was not exclusively an American state of mind and should be set in any country where it's performed. But the inverted morality tale of The Seven Deadly Sins explicitly references seven American cities. And with lines like (in the Auden/Kallman translation) "If you show your offence at injustice, Mr Big will show he's offended", it's very much of the moment. Add a performer of colossal magnetism like Storm Large, the slickest Weillian barber-shop quartet in the business and a searing BBC Symphony Orchestra under James Gaffigan, and there were more than a few shivers and goosebumps last night.
 
Storm Large was more than just the icing on a bittersweet cake as the tall, sinuous Anna of The Seven Deadly Sins who leads her more pliant sister – a dancer in the somewhat confusing scenario of the "ballet chanté", largely ignored here – on a soul-destroying journey from Louisiana to the big cities and back. Much pussy-grabbing is involved, we infer, to convert physical assets into cash. Svelte and dangerous, Large’s Anna I controlled their progress with natural ice and fire, every word keenly inflected without a hint of overkill and the voice – like the men’s – perfectly miked. Her concession to the steady breakdown within as the sisters subdue their natural instincts – the “sins” of the “petit bourgeoisie” – for hard cash was to hit the bottle.
 
Maybe supertitles for the action might have made clearer what sin happens in which city, but the only weakness of the original libretto is its outline for the mime/dance sequences, which we didn't need and didn't get, and by discarding her coat to get low down and dirty for nightclub and the movies, Large suggested everything. The ghastly family back home projected the solos as well as the close harmony – hard to pitch in the mostly unaccompanied “Gluttony”, but they did it – with deadly focus very different from their ambling amiability in the previous sequence. And from the first scything pair of clarinets as Anna sets off, hard edges won over romantic yearning, tight rhythms appropriately balletic for “Pride”, “Anger” and “Avarice”. Large’s final litany of what a girl needs to suppress to make money before Anna returns, broken, to the folk back home was spine-tingingly climactic; no wonder a small but appreciative audience roared its approval. A perfect masterpiece, perfectly done.