The Lindbergh Flight / The Flight Over the Ocean and The Seven Deadly Sins

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

23/02/2008 - 26/02/2008

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

Kurt Weill’s The Lindbergh Flight / The Flight Over the Ocean and The Seven Deadly Sins both epitomise different aspects of the American dream set to texts by Bertolt Brecht, making a stunning and arresting double bill.

The Lindbergh Flight / The Flight Over the Ocean recounts the story of man’s conquest of the laws of nature, celebrating the first solo trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh. His trajectory to becoming the first mass-media star is described by radio announcer and chorus,
complete with flying plane and flight-path backdrop. The music and words tell the story in 15 scenes, from the urging of the airmen to take up the challenge, to Lindbergh battling with the elements, conversing with his aeroplane and ultimately arriving in Paris.

The Seven Deadly Sins follows the spirited journey of twin sisters, Anna I and Anna II – one practical, the other impulsive – who, voyaging across America for seven years, encompass seven cities and seven sins on their quest to raise money for the building of their family home. Impulsive Anna II, cast as seven sensuous dancers directed by renowned Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard, dances in and out of trouble. Gun-Brit Barkmin, described as "something of a revelation in the main role of Anna I" (Evening News), attempts to profit from their predicaments as she manipulates her different selves and the chorus around the stage.

François Girard, an award-winning film and opera director, has created a theatrically taut and visually imaginative production. First staged at the Opéra National de Lyon and at the Edinburgh Festival, the double bill has been hailed as "a triumph for all concerned" (Evening News).

Featuring the dramatically intense and sumptuous Gun-Brit Barkmin as Anna I and Christian Baumgärtel as the stoic hero Lindbergh, the international cast is led by Jonathan Stockhammer who is known for his intelligence and subtlety of expression. Stockhammer will conduct
the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus in this highly original and entertaining feast for the senses.


Set designer François Séguin
Costume designer Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
Lighting designer David Finn
Video designer Peter Flaherty
Assistant director Sandrine Lanno
Assistant choreographer Kerrie Szuch
Assistant lighting designer Andreas Grüter

The Lindbergh Flight / The Flight Over the Ocean
Lindbergh Christian Baumgärtel
Narrator Don McKellar
Baritone Tim DuFore
Bass Wade Kernot
Dancers Yann Dao, Ali Bey Ghenai, Julien Quartier
Chorus The NBR New Zealand Opera Chapman Tripp Chorus

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Jonathan Stockhammer
Performance by arrangement with european american music
English translations performed by the Speaker are by kind permission of the estate of Bertolt Brecht

The Seven Deadly Sins
Anna I Gun-Brit Barkmin
Anna II Juliette Murgier, Capucine Goust, Marion Mangin, Yuliya Apanasik, Maïssa Barouche, Catherine Mestat, Cindy Guiovanna, Hélène Bianco
Tenor Christian Baumgärtel
Tenor Brendon Mercer
Baritone Tim DuFore
Bass Wade Kernot
Cedric Gueret, Julien Quartier, Yann Dao, Ali Bey Ghenai, Rachid Hamchaoui, Derradji Bounechada, Alex Tuy, Raouf Ghouila

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Jonathan Stockhammer
Performance by arrangement with Schott Music Limited

2 hrs, incl. interval

Euro-style Weill from operatic margins

Review by Lindis Taylor 28th Feb 2008

Accepting the festival’s reduced opera ambitions and the choice of works rather on the margins of the standard repertoire, this double bill offers a vivid example of contemporary European production style, by Francois Girard, that is both brilliant and searching.

Both works set texts by the great German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. German is used, with excellent surtitles. [More


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The dream and waking up to reality

Review by Rosel Labone 28th Feb 2008

"I’m so tired of you, America" modern-day troubadour Rufus Wainwright memorably sang in his 2007 single ‘Going to Town.’ But did he get it the right way round? Has America itself become tired, because it has run out of ideas?

Despite opinions to the contrary, America was founded on ideas rather than ideals. It’s not so much a country as a state of mind. In a land built on fairy tales, heroism, and above all on money, it took an outsider, a German-Jewish émigré who would later become an American citizen, to write convincingly about the truth of the battle America was fighting to hold on to its fictions. 

In The Lindbergh Flight and Seven Deadly Sins Kurt Weill takes a trip around the fictive geography of an America on the cusp, caught between the mythology of the first gold rush pioneers and the promise of the modern world that lay ahead; a country at the edge of one World War and teetering on the precipice of another.

It was a world that was about to change inalterably with the onset of WWII. Years before he was forced out of his native Germany, Weill was dreaming and writing about that America, the same one that would later adopt him. How did he view this brave new world from the outside?

From the opening Bertolt Brecht quotation, this production of The Lindbergh flight makes it clear that his vision was far from perfect, and sets the tone for the path that vision will take. With one short introductory quote across the airways, over crackling frequencies, our narrator introduces Weill’s collaborative partner, Bertolt Brecht: where he came from, who he is, and how he sees himself. It is a powerful statement of identity in a country where any claim to nationhood or belonging is tenuous.

Appropriately, the voice of the narrator is American, but the words are Brecht’s own: it is very much in keeping with the kind of cultural and emotional duality which informs both Lindbergh and Deadly Sins. 

The Lindbergh Flight is the story of a time when everything seemed possible; an era which spawned a generation of F. Scott Fitzgeralds and Gatsbys. Weill and Brecht’s collaborative work, from its protagonists to its new invention of a "jazz opera" style, captures the zeitgeist of a world with its eyes on the American Dream.

The landscape both literally and metaphorically informs the story. As the Lindbergh Flight opens the chorus stands before the "united" states of America. This production places the chorus in drab garb, ordinary folk cast in stark relief next to the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and their glowing "Lindy", bathed in light and soaring high above them.

The individual lines of the male and female voices diverge and meet as one. Uniformed and sharing the collective desire for an American hero, while their lives go on, they look to the skies and to a man out of time and his daring attempt to conquer the Atlantic as the way to the future.

The Chapmann Tripp chorus is outstanding as the hopeful bystanders who await their Christ-like hero’s safe descent and their subsequent redemption. The audience experiences with them the collective emotions of longing, excitement, and apprehension.

Christian Baumgartel endows Lindbergh with all the qualities of a saviour or martyr for the great cause of America.  The hero, captured in pure, reedy tenor tones by Baumgartel, is a most Christ-like figure in his hour of trial, offering himself up as a sacrifice for the collective good. Baumgartel invests certain moments with real suspense, and other moments, such as coaxing his plane to stay upright, with gentle humour and pathos.

Weill uses external elements to mirror Lindbergh’s inner conflict.  Emerging artist Wade Kernot delivers a star turn as a malevolent spirit who assails Lindbergh from below, encouraging him to give into sleep. Kernot gives a suitably seductive performance, his warm voice round and resonant and with lots of character, with the requisite Weillian "bite", while other chorus members deliver attacks from the elements of wind, ice, and water.

The Lindbergh Flight offers the audience a dynamic stage experience, from the mechanically operated airplane propeller to whirring clocks and the stop-motion ticker tape parade at the end. There is an obsession with speed, momentum, and the cogwheels of time, which move forward, backwards, and slow to a stop with Lindbergh’s dramatic landing and hero’s welcome near Paris.

In our modern world, there are very few heroes left, and I had the feeling that for this reason some of the audience members didn’t find the same affinity with the first billing as the second part of the show, which deals with the very human attempts to survive the perils of a fallen world.

If The Lindberg Flight is the story of one man’s pursuit of the American Dream, then Seven Deadly Sins is the reality after waking up.

"He who masters his passions wins the crown" sings the chorus in Weill’s allegorical ode to America’s mythic south, where bible-belt religion and unspeakable greed coexist side by side. The projection of American currency onto the backdrop with the magnified words "In God we Trust" reminds us how easily the love of God can turn into the love of money.

Anna I traverses the fictional geography of America, seeking her fortune, and lamenting how her ‘sister’, Anna II, gets lost along the way. She sets off idealistically while in her erstwhile home in Louisiana her relatives keep a watchful eye from afar. A metaphor for America itself, the relatives are presented as puritanical, mercenary, barricaded and faceless, looming as an ominous threat in the distance. They worship a new god – the Almighty Dollar. They complain bitterly that Anna is idle, fat, and too poor to be of any use to the family.

As they ironically intone that God watches over her, Anna (or her fragmented alter-ego "Anna II") breaks his laws one by one, at each new step warping and bending their meaning to suit her own will and absolve herself of guilt: she must take a job as a topless dancer, for it is sin to be too proud to work ("pride is for the rich"); she must not fall in love, for it is a sin to fall in love if it prevents reaching the top ("never depend on anyone"); she must not eat, for it is a sin to eat if it means never attaining stardom.

When Anna is finally ready to return home, it is not to America, the land of dreams: America as it once was can never exist for Anna again. All through her travels, she thinks of the day she will have enough money to return to "a little house in Louisiana". But she has lost her way, her American Dream has become too polluted, and she can never go "home" again.

Gun-Brit Barkmin (Anna I)’s approach to Weill’s fusion music, somewhere between opera and jazz, is a style all her own: she switches from a Teresa Stratas-esque full-voiced vibrato belt, to a sexy moan, to Sprechstimme, and back again, while Weill’s motifs circle ominously. Her singing demonstrates a sympathetic understanding of the composer’s unique style.

The orchestra provides excellent support on Weill’s exposed vocal lines, relishing the dramatic opportunities inherent in this at times strident-sounding music and making the most of the lyric moments which occasionally soften the hard-edge. But then Weill was never a composer to concern himself with comfort levels. On the cutting edge of what was happening in music in the 1920s, it was his intention to provoke and to change the world with his art, and it certainly appears to have the power to still do that today.

Lyon Opera’s presentation of The Seven Deadly Sins is a perfect blend of dance and music, the carefully choreographed movement enhancing the drama and the skilled dancers providing a feast for the eyes.

It was wonderful to experience this French troupe here in Wellington, and they deservedly took lengthy curtain calls. I hope to see them back for the next festival.


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