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Tremendous Energy

Kurt Weill's 'Arms and the Cow',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Opera North's fine record of Kurt Weill revivals continues with Arms and the Cow [seen 27 April 2006 at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK]. This began life in 1934 as Der Kuhhandel. It was never completed, but an English version was staged in London, unsuccessfully, as A Kingdom for a Cow, in 1935.

The German title can mean either 'The cow-seller' or 'Horse-trading' (different animal, same concept). The plot concerns the efforts of an unscrupulous American arms dealer to nudge two neighbouring and previously friendly Latin-American states into war with each other so that he can make a (sorry about this) killing, selling weapons to both sides. The cow of the title is the only possession of Juan, which he needs as a dowry in order to marry his girlfriend, Juanita, but which is claimed by the government as part of taxation to pay for the weapons. There were plenty of topical references in the original, and the new English version by David Pountney and Jeremy Sams makes sure there are plenty for present-day audiences, too.

This production was first staged at the Bregenz Festival in 2004. Opera North throw themselves into it with terrific verve, and with some great individual performances. The two lovers, Leonardo Capalbo and Mary Plazas, move from innocence to disillusionment in a particularly subtle way. Donald Maxwell keeps General Garcia Conchas's bluster and pomposity within credible bounds. Adrian Clarke, as Jones, the arms dealer, comes across as a kind of less manic Robin Williams, while Jeffrey Lawton brings a touch of Alistair Sim-like dithering to the role of President Mendez as he tries to stay aloof from the action suspended above the stage on a sofa-swing.

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Copyright © 4 May 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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