Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which has been called the apotheosis of the dance, is a reason all by itself to go to the April 19 and 21 concerts of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Coupled with Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins,” sung by Storm Large and the group Hudson Shad, it becomes an event not to be missed. The two even have something in common, besides their number, since “The Seven Deadly Sins” was commissioned as a “sung ballet.”

Large is known as a pop singer with Pink Martini, but her version of the Weill classic, in W.H. Auden’s translation, has been taking the classical world by storm (I couldn’t resist). She seems almost a reincarnation of Weill’s wife and artistic partner, Lotte Lenya, who made the role of Anna her own in the 1930s. Her persona, combining innocence and depravity, seems exactly what Weill intended. The male quartet of Hudson Shad plays the role of a Greek chorus to Anna’s tragicomedy.

A 1933 collaboration between the composer and librettist Bertolt Brecht, “Sins” was the last work they would write together. It expresses Brecht’s hatred of capitalism, but doesn’t go quite as far as the playwright wanted. Weill is quoted as saying that he couldn’t set the Communist Manifesto to music.

Weill, who was also a fine pianist (he studied with the great pianist-composer Ferruccio Buson) and a prolific music critic, is best known for his song “Mack the Knife” from “The Three-Penny Opera,” his version of the earlier “Beggars Opera” by British playwright John Gay.

“Sins” is about two sisters who take a journey from their hometown on the Mississippi to make their fortune in the world and buy a “little house” to settle down in. They meet with various adventures along the way, showing that practicing what used to be known as the seven deadly sins is the way to get ahead in today’s world.

Anna’s alter ego, Anna II, played by a dancer in the ballet version, is the innocent one while the singer, played by Large, is a sort of impresario. Brecht’s script is reminiscent of the novels “Justine” and “Juliette,” both by the Marquis de Sade, in which the good Justine is progressively humiliated and ruined while her sinful sister, Juliette, prospers. Back home after seven years, it is the innocent Anna II who regrets the sins she did not commit.


The sins are represented by American cities, about which Brecht apparently knew nothing at all. For example, Sloth has no home, but Pride is in Memphis, Wrath in Los Angeles, Gluttony in Philadelphia, Greed in Baltimore, Envy in San Francisco and Lust in Boston.

The music is pure, wonderful Weill (Gershwin meets Schoenberg, perhaps, but basically a genre unto itself). Its cutting parodies of musical forms are those of German Expressionism. And after you hear The Family – the Greek chorus of “Sins” – the barbershop quartet will never sound the same.

PSO Music Director Robert Moody said that after hearing Large’s performance of “Sins” with the Detroit Symphony in 2013, he had to book it for Portland. He feels that it provides a counterweight of cynicism to the optimistic Seventh Symphony.

He is familiar with the work, having been associated with the Kurt Weill Foundation earlier in his career, where he met musicians and others who had worked closely with the composer, who died in 1950.

There will be no supertitles for this performance. Large’s vocal clarity, and that of the Hudson Shad quartet, makes them unnecessary, Moody said.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.