Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht's Berlin

The Opera

Die Sieben Tods√ľnden (Seven Deadly Sins) by Kurt Weill is a satirical opera about two sisters seeking their fortune. It examines the role of money and religious fervor in the American Dream by placing a parable about the dangers of sinning in the context of economic production. The opera is presented in one act with a prologue, an epilogue, and one scene for each of the seven deadly sins. Each scene is framed to show how the sins of a capitalist society align closely with the virtues of empathy.

At the beginning of the opera, the Annas lives with her family in a small house in Louisiana. The family sends the Annas away to go to big cities throughout America and make money to build a better life and home for them. Throughout the opera, it is unclear whether the Annas are one person or two. In the prologue, Anna 1 explains, “…we’re really one divided being/even though you see two of us.” The Family refers to the Annas collectively as “Anna” or “our Anna”[1]. Between the two sisters, Anna 1 serves as “the sensible one” who pushes Anna 2 to go out of her comfort zone in order to make money and pursue new work opportunities. Anna 2 is the more whimsical of the two. She often shies away from jobs that are difficult or make her uncomfortable, but Anna 1 keeps pushing her forward to make sure that they make as much money as possible.

The opera chronicles the Annas’ journey through seven different large cities over the course of seven years. At each city, Anna 1 prods Anna 2 towards a new job or moneymaking scheme. In each city, Anna 2 encounters one of the seven deadly sins that challenges her resolve. threatens her ability to make money. In each case, Anna 1 pushes her to make the decision that will push her away from sin and towards further financial gain. The family observes the Annas from afar and provides commentary in the style of a Greek chorus. At each job, Anna 2 faces a new challenge that reflects one of the seven deadly sins. In each case, the representation of the sin is not so much similar to a classical interpretation of the sin as to whatever form the sin can take to prevent financial productivity. Rather than their shared quality being harm towards other humans or towards God, Anna’s sins only harm her ability to make and save money. In the eyes of Anna 1 and the family, this lack of financial production represents harm to the prospects of the family and is therefore sinful.

Some cities, like the first one the Annas encounter, are unnamed. There, the family discusses Anna’s behavior in the context of Sloth, worrying that she will not be willing to get out of bed to work. In the second city, Memphis, Anna 2 gets a job at a cabaret. Enraptured with the idea of “the art… of cabaret,” she tries to perform by dancing artistically. Anna 1 chides that this “isn’t what is wanted”—the cabaret’s customers just want to see some skin—and to carry on as an “artist” is a sinful act of Pride. The third city the Annas visit is Los Angeles. While there, Anna 2 works as an extra on a movie set. When she berates a lead actor for violently beating a horse that has already fallen down, Anna 1 scolds her for demonstrating Wrath towards the actor. Ashamed, Anna 2 apologizes to him and is luckily able to keep her job as an extra. In the fourth city, Philadelphia, Anna 2 wishes to spend her earnings on gourmet food and Anna 1 scolds her for Gluttony. The fifth city that the Annas visit is Boston. There, she dates a wealthy man who gives her gifts and money. After falling in love with another man, Anna 2 shares her boyfriend’s gifts with him. Anna 1 scolds her for this, which she views as an expression of uncontrolled lust for the man that Anna 2 loves. At Anna 1’s urging, Anna 2 ends her relationship with the man she loves to pursue the wealthy man who gives her money and gifts. At the sixth city, Baltimore, the family observes Anna 2 from afar and criticizes her for her cruelty towards the men in her life. They worry that she is too greedy in the way that she strives for power and attention. Finally, when the Annas reach San Francisco, Anna 2 finds herself envious of those who get to indulge in all the “sins” that she was denied. Anna 1 reminds her of the rewards of avoiding sin, and the family joins in her sermon until Annas reach the epilogue, which describes their return to the family home in Louisiana.

 --Maeve Greising

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