Finally, Der Protagonist comes to disc. Kurt Weill’s first opera was composed in 1926 to a text by Georg Kaiser, hailed with hats in the air a year before Weill‘s first collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. The work comes crusted with legend, most of it Lotte Lenya’s charming invention: She and Weill did, or didn‘t, first meet when she was the Kaisers’ au pair and he was at work on the opera. That doesn‘t matter.
It matters that this is a strong, vivid and startling work. It is full of 1920s Berlin: the hard, sardonic dissonances of the young Paul Hindemith, the bits of jazz that were sweeping the city at the time, the lingering romanticism from Weill’s studies with Ferruccio Busoni. Add the slash that Brecht‘s cynicism brought to the mix a few months later, and you have the compleat Weill of Mahagonny and Three-Penny; its roots are already here in this violent tale of jealousy and murder, tinged with Expressionist accents: Pagliacci plus Caligari, perhaps. The performance, on the Los Angeles--based Capriccio label, is from Berlin, conducted by our own John Mauceri, with Robert Worle as the leader (protagonist) of a theatrical troupe and Amanda Halgrimson as the sister he loves and then murders. It runs just over an hour, and doesn’t waste a note along the way.