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Kurt Weill’s half-century life spans a history of musical theatre use and abuse. As post-Wagnerism gave way to mordant objectivity, Weill was primed to become the genre’s or genres’ prime mover and shaker. The cross-pollination of high and low and a truly international biography – bridging Weimar Sachlichkeit and Broadway pizzazz – fed his work, simultaneously changing the nature of musical theatre. It is that extraordinary narrative that Stephen Hinton has chosen to tell through Stages of Reform. True to his subject, Hinton tells a dizzying tale.

The task is far from easy – Weill, as Ronald Taylor wrote, ‘seemed to change styles more often than countries’ – but Hinton is in such firm command of his material and its context that the biographical and musicological shifts are told with clarity and aplomb. Rather than charting Weill’s musical theatre history through his work, the story is told by means of genre: ‘One-Act Operas’, ‘Didactic Theater’, ‘American Opera’ and so on. Hinton allows these to act as demarcations in an otherwise fluid tale, all the time reflecting Weill’s ‘abiding interest in creating mixed genres’.

That trend became even more prevalent during Weill’s American period, as the umbrella term ‘musical’ came into being. Having placed his subject at the heart of the matter, here Hinton becomes more critical, merging musicological discussion with performance history. But, ever building bridges between works and emerging trends, Hinton underlines Weill’s brilliant chameleon-like tendencies.

The subtle but fundamental difference between Zeitoper and the ‘infotainment’ of America, the use of Verdian and Wagnerian principles within Street Scene or the detrimental impact of Hollywood on the fabric of his music add to this rich cross- referencing and cross-cultural text. And even if Hinton rarely levels criticism at Weill – his praise for Happy End appears too party line – the verve and dexterity of this publication entirely convinces.

GAVIN PLUMLEY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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