Opera Profile: Weill & Brecht’s Unique ‘Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny’

By David Salazar

“The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” is a famed work by composer Kurt Weill with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht.

The opera had its world premiere on March 9, 1930, in Leipzig and played in Berlin the following year. It would eventually be banned by the Nazis and virtually became forgotten until the 1960s. It has since received performances around the world, though it has never quite established itself as a major repertory staple. Nonetheless, the work is unique in the repertory as it includes a number of unique styles such as rag-time, jazz, and formal counterpoint, among others.

Short Plot Summary

Three fugitives, Fatty the Bookkeeper, Trinity Moses, and Leocadia Begbic, arrive in the city of Mahagonny, figuring it a good place to hide from federal agents. They decide to found a pleasure city where men can have fun. The news of the city spreads fast and people flock from all over, including a whore Jenny Smith.

Four Alaskan lumberjacks, including Jimmy Mahoney, Jacob Schmidt, Bank Account Billy, and Alaska Wolf Joe, head off to Mahagonny, but find other people disappointed once they arrive.

Jimmy and Jenny get to know one another, while the original founders contemplate the city’s financial troubles. The founders decide to try and get as much from the four new arrivals. Jimmy wants to leave the city and his irritation with the situation creates tension. The city is then threatened by a typhoon, but they are ultimately left untouched.

At a boxing match, Moses fights Alaska Wolf Joe and winds up killing him. Jimmy finds himself in financial troubles over unpaid whiskey. He is led off in chains with Trinity Moses promising to make him pay with his life.

The trial becomes a major event with Moses selling tickets for the spectacle. After the trial of Tobby Higgins, Jimmy is tried. After a heated confrontation with Moses, he is sentenced to death for having no money.

Jimmy says goodbye to Jenny, who declares herself his widow. After his death, the audience is informed that the city was destroyed by warring factions from within. The opera ends in chaos.

Watch and Listen

Here is a recording featuring Lotte Lenya, Gisela Litz, and Heinz Sauerbaum.


Here is a performance directed by Robert Hanell.


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