Variety review of Die Weberischen
As Mozart's 250th-birthday celebrations drone on, levity has been distinctly absent. Enter British post-punk band the Tiger Lillies to change all that.
As Mozart's 250th-birthday celebrations drone on, levity has been
distinctly absent. Enter British post-punk band the Tiger Lillies to
change all that. "The Weber Women" is a gloriously nasty piece of work
that sardonically explores Mozart's fascination with the daughters of
Martyn Jacques, the creepy falsetto who fronts the band, created the music and serves as an omnipresent commentator.
Cilly's style of parenting makes Joan Crawford look like Mary Poppins:
"Six sons dead, four sluts to feed, sell those bitches for my needs --
life's a bitch" sums up her fate of raising daughters who all aspire to
be opera singers.
And sell she does: The marriage contract
between dizzy Sofie and a low-ranking government official specifies a
tidy annual income for Cilly. Whenever told, "Mama, I met a man," the
immediate response is, "How much does he earn?"
diva of the brood, makes the best deal by marrying a prominent musician
and becoming prima donna of the Vienna Opera, providing an excuse for
Cilly to move the family to Austria.
In another business deal,
Cilly sublets a room to Mozart, and pragmatic Konstanze decides he will
make an adequate husband. Cilly gives her blessing after being told
that Mozart's father, Leopold, has just died, thus increasing her
potential son-in-law's net worth. (Intercepting letters from Leopold,
Cilly reads, "Those Weber women will be your downfall.")
Eventually, even the decidedly unglamorous Josefa (chain-smoking and
always furiously whipping something in a bowl) scores a husband and a
huge success when she creates the role of the Queen of the Night in
"The Magic Flute."
Mozart's death (he is seen only as a corpse
carried on by the women) seems to awaken Cilly's parsimony in the
widowed Konstanze: She sees a future for herself only upon discovering
the potential income from her husband's unpublished compositions.
"What does it all mean? Nothing," sings Jacques to the corpse, an
opinion contradicted as the set rises to reveal the orchestra where a
lone musician plays the haunting adagio of Mozart's clarinet concerto.
Felix Mitterer's episodic book is so unrelenting in its black humor
that when, late in the show, Aloisia congratulates Josefa on her
success, it's jolting to actually hear words of kindness and sincerity.
Jacques' 14 songs alternate between the Tiger Lillies' trademark
blasphemous reinterpretations of old English ballads (one is called
"Screw You") and numbers inspired by Mozart: "Fame" ingeniously takes
the chord sequence from a "Magic Flute" aria and makes a whole new song
from it, while "The Merry Birdcatcher" utilizes the text of another
aria from the same opera but sets it to quite a different tune.
Abetted by Alfred Mayerhofer's thrift-shop costumes and Miriam Busch's
rundown hotel lobby set (the carpet is so ugly it's magnificent),
director Stephanie Mohr goes for broad laughs, whether it be Konstanze
literally squeezing out a baby or the family engaged in a Three Stooges
assembly line of facial slaps.
Eva Maria Marold, Anne Weber,
Tanja Schleiff and Ruth Brauer all do superb jobs of establishing the
sisters' diverse personalities, but it's the scenery-chewing Cilly of
Robert Meyer that brings down the house. Never grotesque, he even
manages to find something vulnerable in an extraordinarily unlikable
character. When Cilly leads her girls through a five-part Mozart canon,
it's an unexpected moment of pure magic.
Busch; costumes, Alfred Mayerhofer; lighting, Nicole Berry; sound,
Martin Mayer and Claus Buhler. Opened Aug. 28, 2006. Reviewed Sept. 9.
Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.
With: The Tiger Lillies (Martyn Jacques, vocals and accordion; Adrian Huge, percussion; Adrian Stout, contrabass).