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Work of the Week – Kurt Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins

On 20 May 2018, the Opéra national du Rhin and Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse will premiere David Pountney’s new production of Kurt Weill’s ballet chanté The Seven Deadly Sins in Strasbourg. Roland Kluttig will conduct, with choreography by Beate Vollack and stage design by Marie-Jeanne Lecca.

Weill composed The Seven Deadly Sins in 1933 after fleeing from Nazi Germany to Paris. The work was commissioned by Edward James, a wealthy Englishman and patron to the Parisian company “Les Ballets 1933”, which had been newly founded by choreographer George Balanchine.  Weill accepted the commission on the condition that he could compose a ballet with singing – a ballet chanté (sung ballet).

Weill originally intended the libretto to be written by writer Jean Cocteau, but under time pressure he turned to his long-time collaborator Bertolt Brecht, whom he had worked with on Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (1928) and Weill’s own Mahagonny Songspiel (1927) among others. They completed The Seven Deadly Sins in just two weeks, and on 7 June 1933 it was premiered at the Théâtre des Champs- Élysées. Although reviews of the premiere were mixed, the ballet went on to become one of Weill’s best known works.

Kurt Weill – The Seven Deadly Sins: one divided being

The Seven Deadly Sins tells the story of Anna, who is sent on a seven year journey through North America by her family to earn money for a small house on the Mississippi. The character of Anna is split into two roles: Anna I who is more sensible and pragmatic, and the more emotional Anna II. In each city the Annas face the temptations of the seven deadly sins: pridegreedlustenvygluttonywrath and sloth, until eventually they give up their dreams and return disillusioned to their family in Louisiana. Musically Weill incorporates popular American musical styles of the 1920s such as the tango, foxtrot and polka to enhance the comedy of Brecht’s text, and create a satire of the moral double standards of any society willing to sacrifice its values for prosperity.

“It’s the usual mess. A small party has formed among the followers of traditional Russian ballet, who of course consider our ballet as containing too little “ballet” or “pure choreography”. As a result, there have been great disruptions in the last few days […] but Balanchine stands between the parties. He has done an excellent job and found a style of representation that is very dance-like, but nevertheless very real.”
– Kurt Weill reporting on rehearsals to Bertolt Brecht

The Seven Deadly Sins will run until 28 May in Strasbourg, after which further performances include the Théâtre municipal de Colmar on 5 June, the Théatre de la Sinne Mulhouse on 13 & 15 June and the Staatstheater Braunschweig on 22 June.


Photo : Staatstheater Braunschweig / Thomas M. Jauk