Pop-cabaret singer Storm Large and Uruguayan guest conductor Carlos Kalmar teamed up for what was billed as the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s “most varied programme this season”, and they and the orchestra delivered in style. Kalmar, sporting a red bowtie and a red vest under his tux, kept a tight grip for a rollercoaster of a concert. It kicked off with Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen’s Phenomenon, a fast-paced sonic celebration of light, and ended with a mashup of Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony with Ravel’s La Valse serving as the unwritten third movement – for reasons to be explained.

Storm Large © Laura Domela
Storm Large
© Laura Domela

The centrepiece, though, was Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins which is supposed to be a ballet chanté for singer, dancer and male chorus. But if the singer you’ve got resembles a punk Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the dancer is superfluous. The statuesque, blonde Large arrived on stage in a long gown topped with a brown-and-grey-striped shawl, which when removed revealed a top with a deep V-cut front and rear and a tattoo running shoulder blade-to-shoulder blade across her back.

Large played both of the Anna roles from Brecht’s libretto – Anna One, the singer and the sensible one, and Anna Two, the flighty dancer. The two Annas travel to seven cities in America where the dancing Anna is meant to perform and earn money to build a family home back on the Mississippi in Louisiana. On their travels, the Annas are tempted by, and succumb to sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, covetousness and envy. The family back home, represented by a four-singer male chorus with a basso profundo as the mother, urges the Annas to get the money for the house, no matter how.

No one would mistake Large’s silky soprano for the husky, dark timbre of Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya, who sang the piece at its Paris première in 1933 and reprised it in the 1950s. Nor were the nightclub-inspired dance moves she interspersed with the singing much like what the original choreographer, George Balanchine, would have conceived. But Large’s version demonstrates that Weill and Brecht’s take-down of capitalism, misogyny and exploitation is still relevant in the age of Donald Trump and #MeToo. “If you take offence at injustice, Mr Weinstein will show he’s offended,” Anna sings in the section on anger, set in Los Angeles, with a slight updating of the lyrics. The sensible Anna also chides her dancing sister for being too “artsy” before an audience of leering men: “Do what you are asked to do, and not what you want, for that isn’t what is wanted.”

In the original staging, a house rises higher as Anna plunges through paper panels on doors labelled with each of the sins she has committed. This staging made do with the male chorus to the right of the podium, and Large alternately standing to sing and dance or being seated at a nightclub-style table bearing a glass and a bottle of wine, from which she poured liberally as Anna sank deeper into sin.

The music, a blend of cabaret and pop-style melodies that Weill fashioned into one of his most haunting and poignant scores, was performed eloquently by the RTÉ NSO under Kalmar. He and the orchestra stayed the course for the concert’s second half, in which the conductor explained that the programme was largely about transformation and death, and since Schubert hadn’t finished his symphony, and Ravel’s piece was intended to kill off the waltz, why not combine them? The resulting three-movement hybrid may not catch on, but under Kalmar the RTÉ NSO played an articulate and absorbing version of the Schubert, and delivered the Ravel with all its gloopy maraschino cherries and gluttonous Sachertorte Viennese overkill. A sinfully delightful evening for all concerned.

****1