Yes, this semi-opera by the Opera North is just as crazy as the name suggests! Based on Kert Weill’s crude satire about the rise of the Nazis, David Pountney has re-worked the classical operetta for a contemporary audience, giving it his own mock-Shavian title, from the original untranslatable Der Kuhhandel. Its only other showing, previous to this version, saw it named ‘A Kingdom for a Cow’ in its 1935 premiere in London, before being abandoned by its creator after merely two weeks on Broadway, and you can almost see why.
The plot is simple and has the potential to be an amusing, observational yet slightly satirical comment on the corruption and behind-the-scenes plotting and unseen plans that occur in politics. It is a tale of two neighbouring countries in the Caribbean being goaded to war against the other, by an American rogue arms dealer hoping to make money from their mutual hatred. Alongside this runs a story of two star-struck lovers fighting against poverty to save funds to marry, and the two plots collide as – in order for the government of one of the countries to raise revenue for the impending war – the couple’s cow is confiscated as a new “one-off” tax, which ironically keeps being implemented.
It is a not too subtle comment on the Bush-Blair-Iraq situation, and could work if Pountney didn’t insist on having dictators prancing around the stage in sinister white masks, too-frequent mention of WMDs, sleazy politicos, dictatorships, spin doctors, unscrupulous businessmen and the Iraq war, and garish, laughable dance routines at every wave of the conductor’s stick.
A bit too slapstick to be taken seriously as a political satire, so maybe he shouldn’t have tried so hard, so we could appreciate it as the zany, colourful pantomime that it is.