Meet Anna and Anna: one person, two personalities. Sent away for seven years to make money for their struggling family, they journey between seven cities from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and encounter Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Greed and Envy on the way. As they do, they dance, sing, argue and withstand the sardonic commentary of their family.
Written and premiered in Paris in 1933, The Seven Deadly Sins was to be the final collaboration between the composer Kurt Weill and the playwright Bertolt Brecht. They had scored a huge hit together with The Threepenny Opera in 1928, but their relationship soured as they worked towards the premiere of the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in 1930. Brecht always felt that Weill was too much the dreamer and that his music needed words to make it relevant and practical. So the piece can be seen as a perfect metaphor for the fractured state of their relationship. It also functions on many other levels: as a critique of capitalism, of the church and of the way that women are treated in this society.
Shelley Eva Haden
Orchestra of Opera North
Bertolt Brecht, English translation by Michael Feingold
George Johnson-Leigh, Stephen Rodwell
Anna I sets the scene, explaining the relationship between her and Anna II (that they are actually one person) and their task — to travel and make enough money for their family back in Louisiana to build a little house on the Mississippi River.
Anna’s parents note that she has always been lazy. The family say a prayer that God will keep Anna on the path that leads to prosperity and happiness.
Anna I and Anna II arrive in Memphis and find a job as a cabaret dancer. Anna II tries to turn it into an art, but is scolded by Anna I, as that is not what the paying customers are after and she must give up her pride to give them what they want…
Anna I and Anna II are now in Los Angeles. Anna II witnesses acts of cruelty and rebels against injustice, but Anna I reminds her that such anger will make her unemployable, so she must set it aside.
The family has a letter from Anna in Philadelphia. Anna’s contract specifies that she may not gain any weight. They recall that she loves to eat but trust her to remember that a contract is a contract.
In Boston, Anna I and Anna II have attracted a wealthy admirer, but Anna II loves another man, who is poor. Anna I points out that the rich lover will not tolerate divided loyalty, and that they need the money. Anna II rebels, but reluctantly gives in.
The family learns that Anna is in Baltimore. Men are committing suicide over her, which will increase her earning power, but they fear she will get too greedy. They hope she will not make herself too unpopular to earn money.
In San Francisco, Anna II is worn out and envious of those who do not have to work hard. Anna I preaches of the need to renounce pleasure and promises a reward to come. The family agree, saying that strict self control is the path to glory.
Anna I and Anna II return to Louisiana after seven years. The house is complete.