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The Threepenny Opera
Dreigroschenoper.JPG
Original German poster from Berlin, 1928.
Music Kurt Weill
Lyrics Bertolt Brecht
Book Bertolt Brecht
Basis John Gay's The Beggar's Opera
Productions Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin, 31 August 1928

The Threepenny Opera (German: Die Dreigroschenoper) is a play with music by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, in collaboration with translator Elisabeth Hauptmann and set designer Caspar Neher.[1] It was adapted from an 18th-century English ballad opera, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and offers a Marxist critique of the capitalist world.[2] It opened on 31 August 1928 at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm.

Contents

Overview

Operas by Kurt Weill

Der Protagonist (1926)
Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927)
Der Zar lässt sich
photographieren
(1928)
The Threepenny Opera (1928)
Happy End (1929)
Der Lindberghflug (1929)
Rise and Fall of the
City of Mahagonny
(1930)
Der Jasager (1930)
Die Bürgschaft (1932)
Der Silbersee (1933)
The Seven Deadly Sins (1933)
Der Kuhhandel (1935)
Johnny Johnson (1936)
The Eternal Road (1937)
Knickerbocker Holiday (1938)
Lady in the Dark (1940)
One Touch of Venus (1943)
The Firebrand of Florence (1945)
Street Scene (1946)
Down in the Valley (1948)
Love Life (1948)
Lost in the Stars (1949)

Set in a marginally-anachronistic Victorian London, the play focuses on Macheath, an amoral, antiheroic criminal.

Macheath (Mackie Messer, or Mack the Knife) marries Polly Peachum. This displeases her father, who controls the beggars of London, and he endeavours to have Macheath hanged. His attempts are hindered by the fact that the Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, is Macheath's old army comrade. Still, Peachum exerts his influence and eventually gets Macheath arrested and sentenced to hang. Macheath escapes this fate via a deus ex machina moments before the execution when, in an unrestrained parody of a happy ending, a messenger from the Queen arrives to pardon Macheath and grant him the title of Baron.

The Threepenny Opera is a work of epic theatre. It challenges conventional notions of property as well as those of theatre. It dramatises the question: "Who is the greater criminal: he who robs a bank or he who founds one?" The Threepenny Opera is also an early example of the modern musical comedy genre. Its score is deeply influenced by jazz and mandates a fifteen-piece jazz combo. Its opening and closing lament, "The Ballad of Mackie Messer", was written just before the Berlin premiere, when actor Harald Paulsen (Macheath) threatened to quit if his character did not receive an introduction; this creative emergency resulted in what would become the work's most popular song, later translated into English by Marc Blitzstein as "Mack the Knife" and now a jazz standard that Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé and countless others have all covered. Another well-known song, recorded by Nina Simone and Judy Collins, is "Pirate Jenny". The Pet Shop Boys,[3] Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs have recorded "The Second Threepenny Finale" under the title "What Keeps Mankind Alive".

Performance history

The Threepenny Opera was first performed at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin in 1928. Despite an initially poor reception, it became a great success, playing 400 times in the next two years. The performance was a springboard for one of the best known interpreters of Brecht and Weill's work, Lotte Lenya, who was married to Weill.

It has been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times; in French it was rendered as L'Opéra de quat'sous; (quatre sous, or four pennies being the idiomatically equivalent French expression for Threepenny and, by implication, cut-price, cheap). Georg Wilhelm Pabst's French version of his film also used this title. The Threepenny Opera has been translated into English several times. One was published by Blitzstein in the 1950s and first staged under Leonard Bernstein's baton at Brandeis University in 1952. It was later used on Broadway. Other translations include the standard critical edition by Ralph Manheim and John Willett (1976), one by noted Irish playwright and translator Frank McGuinness (1992), and another by Jeremy Sams for a production at London's Donmar Warehouse in 1994.

Broadway (New York)

At least seven productions have been mounted in New York, on and off Broadway.

  • The first, adapted into English by Gifford Cochran and Jerrold Krimsky and staged by Francesco Von Mendelssohn, featured Robert Chisholm as Macheath. It opened on April 13, 1933, and closed after 12 performances. The brevity of the run has been attributed to the stylistic gap between the Weill-Brecht work and the typical Broadway musical during a busy and vintage period in Broadway history.
  • In 1956, Lotte Lenya won a Tony Award for her role as Jenny in Blitzstein's somewhat softened version of The Threepenny Opera, which played off-Broadway at the Theater de Lys in Greenwich Village for a total of 2,707 performances. Blitzstein had translated the work into English; Lenya, Weill's wife since the 1920s, had sung both Jenny and Polly earlier in Germany. The production was important in New York's musical theatre history, as it showed that musicals could be profitable off-Broadway in a small-scale, small orchestra format.[4] This production is also notable for having Edward Asner (as Mr Peachum), Charlotte Rae as Mrs Peachum, Beatrice Arthur (as Lucy), Jerry Orbach (as PC Smith, the Street Singer and Mack), John Astin (as Readymoney Matt/Matt of the Mint) and Jerry Stiller (as Crookfinger Jake) as members of the cast during its run.
  • Liberally adapted by playwright Wallace Shawn, the work was brought back to Broadway[5] by the Roundabout Theatre Company in March 2006 with Alan Cumming playing Macheath, Nellie McKay as Polly, Cyndi Lauper as Jenny, Jim Dale as Mr Peachum, Ana Gasteyer as Mrs Peachum, Carlos Leon as Filch, Christopher Innvar as Tiger Brown, Adam Alexi-Malle as Jacob and Brian Charles Rooney as a male Lucy. Included in the cast were New York drag performers Hattie Hathaway (Brian Butterick), Edie (Christopher Kenney), Flotilla DeBarge (Kevin Rennard), and performance artist David Cale. The director was Scott Elliott, the choreographer Aszure Barton, and, while not adored by the critics, the production was nominated for the "Best Musical Revival" Tony award. Jim Dale was also Tony-nominated, for Best Supporting Actor. The run ended on June 25, 2006.

West End (London)

Argentina

  • A 1988 Argentina production,starring: Victor Laplace as Mack, Susana Rinaldi as jenny, Laura Liss as Polly
  • A 2004 Argentina production, cast: Diego Peretti, Alejandra Radano, Guillermo Angelelli, María Roji, Muriel Santana, Walter Santana, Alejandra Perlusky, Gustavo Monje, Laura Silva, Jorge Nolasco

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere cast, August 31, 1928[7]
(Conductor: Theo Mackeben )
Macheath ("Mackie Messer"/"Mack the Knife")
London's greatest and most notorious criminal
tenor/baritone Harald Paulsen
Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum – The "Beggar's Friend".
Controller of all the beggars in London, he conspires to have Mack hanged
baritone Erich Ponto
Celia Peachum – Peachum's wife, who helps him run the business mezzo-soprano Rosa Valetti
Polly Peachum – The Peachums' daughter.
After knowing Mack for only five days, she agrees to marry him
soprano Roma Bahn
Jackie "Tiger" Brown – Police Chief of London
and Mack's best friend from their army days
baritone Kurt Gerron
Lucy Brown – Tiger Brown's daughter. Also claims to be married to Mack soprano Kate Kühl
Jenny ("Ginny Jenny" or "Low-Dive Jenny")
A prostitute who was romantically involved with Macheath in the past.
She is bribed to turn Mack in to the police.
mezzo-soprano Lotte Lenya
Filch – The misfit young man who approaches
the Peachums in hopes of beggar-training.
tenor Naphtali Lehrmann
The Street Singer – sings 'The Ballad of Mack the Knife' in the opening scene. baritone Kurt Gerron
Smith – a constable baritone Ernst Busch
Walter tenor Ernst Rotmund
Matthias tenor Karl Hannemann
Jakob tenor Manfred Fürst
Jimmie tenor Werner Maschmeyer
Ede tenor Albert Venohr
Beggars, gangsters, whores, constables

Synopsis

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Prologue

A street singer entertains the crowd with the illustrated murder ballad or Bänkelsang, entitled "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("Ballad of Mack the Knife"). As the song concludes, a well-dressed man leaves the crowd and crosses the stage. This is Macheath, alias "Mack the Knife".

Act 1

The story begins in the shop of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, the boss of London's beggars, who outfits and trains the beggars in return for a slice of their takings from begging. In the first scene, the extent of Peachum's iniquity is immediately exposed. Filch, a new beggar, is obliged to bribe his way into the profession and agree to pay over to Peachum 50 percent of whatever he made; the previous day he had been severely beaten up for begging up within the area of jurisdiction of Peachum's protection racket. As a depiction of capitalist exploitation, in a world where even beggars, individuals at the most exposed and lowest of human ebbs, are constrained to pay protection, it sets out to paint an unflattering picture.

After finishing with the new man, Peachum becomes aware that his grown daughter Polly did not return home the previous night. Peachum, who sees his daughter as his own private property, concludes that she has become involved with Macheath. This does not suit Peachum at all, and he becomes determined to thwart this relationship and destroy Macheath.

The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath himself is preparing to marry Polly once his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings. No vows are exchanged, but Polly is satisfied, and everyone sits down to a banquet. Since none of the gang members can provide fitting entertainment, Polly gets up and sings "Seeräuberjenny," a revenge fantasy in which she is a scullery maid turning pirate queen to order the execution of her bosses and customers. The gang becomes nervous when the Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, arrives, but it's all part of the act; Brown had served with Mack in England's colonial wars and had intervened on numerous occasions to prevent the arrest of Macheath over the years. The old friends duet in the "Kanonen-Song" ("Cannon Song" or "Army Song"). In the next scene, Polly returns home and defiantly announces that she has married Macheath by singing the "Barbarasong" ("Barbara Song"). She stands fast against her parents' anger, but she inadvertently reveals Brown's connections to Macheath which they subsequently use to their advantage.

Act 2

Polly warns Macheath that her father will try to have him arrested. He is finally persuaded that Peachum has enough influence to do it and makes arrangements to leave London, explaining the details of his bandit "business" to Polly so she can manage it in his absence. Before he leaves town, he stops at his favorite brothel, where he sees his ex-lover, Jenny. They sing the "Zuhälterballade" ("Pimp's Ballad") about their days together, but Macheath doesn't know Mrs Peachum has bribed Jenny to turn him in. Despite Brown's apologies, there's nothing he can do, and Macheath is dragged away to jail. After he sings the "Ballade vom angenehmen Leben" ("Ballad of the Pleasant Life"), another girlfriend, Lucy (Brown's daughter) and Polly show up at the same time, setting the stage for a nasty argument that builds to the "Eifersuchtsduett" ("Jealousy Duet"). After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Macheath's escape. When Mr Peachum finds out, he confronts Brown and threatens him, telling him that he will unleash all of his beggars during Queen Victoria's coronation parade, ruining the ceremony and costing Brown his job.

Act 3

Jenny comes to the Peachums' shop to demand her money for the betrayal of Macheath, which Mrs Peachum refuses to pay. Jenny reveals that Macheath is at Suky Tawdry's house. When Brown arrives, determined to arrest Peachum and the beggars, he is horrified to learn that the beggars are already in position and only Mr Peachum can stop them. To placate Peachum, Brown's only option is to arrest Macheath and have him executed. In the next scene, Macheath is back in jail and desperately trying to raise a sufficient bribe to get out again, even as the gallows are being assembled. Soon it becomes clear that neither Polly nor the gang members can, or are willing to, raise any money, and Macheath prepares to die. Then a sudden reversal: a messenger on horseback arrives to announce that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen and granted a title, a castle and a pension. The cast then sings the Finale, which ends with a plea that wrongdoing not be punished too harshly as life is harsh enough.

Musical numbers

Prelude
1 Ouverture
2 Die Moritat von Mackie Messer ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife" – Ausrufer – Street singer)
First Act
3 Morgenchoral des Peachum (Peachum's Morning Choral – Peachum, Mrs Peachum)
4 Anstatt dass-Song (Instead of Song – Peachum, Mrs Peachum)
5 Hochzeits-Lied (Wedding Song – Four Gangsters)
6 Seeräuberjenny (Pirate Jenny – Polly)*
7 Kanonen-Song (Cannon Song – Macheath, Brown)
8 Liebeslied (Love Song – Polly, Macheath)
9 Barbarasong (Barbara Song – Polly)†
10 I. Dreigroschenfinale (First Threepenny Finale – Polly, Peachum, Mrs Peachum)
Second Act
11 Melodram (Melodrama – Macheath)
11a Polly's Lied (Polly's Song – Polly)
12 Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit (Ballad of Sexual Dependency – Mrs Peachum)
13 Zuhälterballade (Pimp's Ballad or Tango Ballad – Jenny, Macheath)
14 Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Ballad of the Pleasant Life – Macheath)
15 Eifersuchtsduett (Jealousy Duet – Lucy, Polly)
15b Arie der Lucy (Aria of Lucy – Lucy)
16 II. Dreigroschenfinale (Second Threepenny Finale – Macheath, Mrs Peachum, Chorus)
Third Act
17 Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens (Song of the Insufficiency of Human Struggling – Peachum)
17a Reminiszenz (Reminiscence)
18 Salomonsong (Solomon Song – Jenny)
19 Ruf aus der Gruft (Call from the Grave – Macheath)
20 Grabschrift (Grave Inscription – Macheath)
20a Gang zum Galgen (Walk to Gallows – Peachum)
21 III. Dreigroschenfinale (Third Threepenny Finale – Brown, Mrs Peachum, Peachum, Macheath, Polly, Chorus)

*In the original version, "Pirate Jenny" is sung by Polly during the wedding scene, but is sometimes moved to the Second Act and given to Jenny. In the 1956 off-Broadway production starring Lotte Lenya, Polly sang a version of the "Bilbao Song" from Brecht's and Weill's Happy End in the first act wedding scene. Sometimes (i.e. in 1989 recording) it's sung by Polly in the first act and by Jenny in the second act between song 13 and 14 according to the list above.

†In the Marc Blitzstein adaptation, this song was moved to the second act and sung by Lucy.

Recordings

Recordings are in German, unless otherwise specified.

  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1930, on Telefunken. Incomplete. Lotte Lenya (Jenny), Erika Helmke (Polly), Willi Trenk-Trebitsch (Macheath), Kurt Gerron (Moritatensänger; Brown), and Erich Ponto (Peachum). Lewis Ruth Band, conducted by Theo Mackeben.
  • The Threepenny Opera, 1954, on Decca Broadway 012-159-463-2. In English. Lyrics by Marc Blitzstein. The 1950s Broadway cast, starring Jo Sullivan (Polly Peachum), Lotte Lenya (Jenny), Charlotte Rae (Mrs Peachum), Scott Merrill (Macheath), Gerald Price (Street Singer), and Martin Wolfson (Peachum). Beatrice Arthur sings Lucy, normally a small role, here assigned an extra number. Complete recording of the score, without spoken dialogues. Conducted by Matlowsky.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1955, on Vanguard 8057, with Anny Felbermayer, Hedy Fassler, Jenny Miller, Rosette Anday, Helge Roswaenge, Alfred Jerger, Kurt Preger and Liane. Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by F. Charles Adler.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1958, on CBS MK 42637. Lenya, who also supervised the production, Kóczián, Hesterburg, Schellow, Neuss, and Willi Trenk-Trebitsch, Arndt Chorus, Sender Freies Berlin Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. Complete recording of the score, without spoken dialogues.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1966, conducted by Rennert on Philips. With Huebner, Teichmann, Mey, Korte, Brammer, and Kutschera.
  • The Threepenny Opera, 1976, on Columbia PS 34326. Conducted by Stanley Silverman. In English, new Translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett. Starring the New York Shakespeare Festival Cast, including Raúl Juliá (Macheath), Ellen Greene (Jenny), Caroline Kava (Polly), Blair Brown (Lucy), C. K. Alexander (Peachum) and Elizabeth Wilson (Mrs Peachum)
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1968, on Polydor 00289 4428349 (2 CDs). Conducted by James Last. The only recording up to the present, that contains the complete spoken dialogues.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1988, on Decca 430 075. René Kollo (Macheath), Mario Adorf (Peachum), Helga Dernesch (Mrs Peachum), Ute Lemper (Polly), Milva (Jenny), Wolfgang Reichmann (Tiger-Brown), Susanne Tremper (Lucy), Rolf Boysen (Herald). RIAS Berlin Sinfonietta, John Mauceri.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1990, on Koch International Classics 37006. Manfred Jung (Macheath), Stephanie Myszak (Polly), Anelia Shoumanova (Jenny), Herrmann Becht (Peachum), Anita Herrmann (Mrs Peachum), Eugene Demerdjiev (Brown), Waldemar Kmentt (Street Singer); Bulgarian Television and Radio Mixed Coir and Symphony Orchestra, Victor C. Symonette
  • The Threepenny Opera, 1994, on CDJAY 1244. In English. Donmar Warehouse (London) production. Translated by Robert David Macdonald (lyrics translated by Jeremy Sams). Conducted by Gary Yershon. With Sharon Small (Polly Peachum), Tara Hugo (Jenny), Natasha Bain (Lucy Brown), Tom Hollander (Macheath), Simon Dormandy (Tiger Brown), Beverley Klein (Mrs Peachum) and Tom Mannion (Mr Peachum).
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1994, on Capriccio. Conducted by Jan Latham-König, with Ulrike Steinsky, Gabriele Ramm, Jane Henschel, Walter Raffeiner, Rolf Wollrad, and Peter Nikolaus Kante.
  • Die Dreigroschenoper, 1999, BMG 74321 66133-2, Ensemble Modern, HK Gruber (conductor, Mr Peachum), Max Raabe (Macheath), Sona MacDonald (Polly), Nina Hagen (Mrs Peachum), Timna Brauer (Jenny), Hannes Hellmann (Tiger Brown)

Film adaptations

There have been at least four film versions. German director Georg Wilhelm Pabst made a 1931 German- and French-language versions simultaneously (a common practice in the early days of sound films). Another version was directed by Wolfgang Staudte in West Germany in 1962 starring Curd Jürgens, Gert Fröbe, and Hildegard Knef. Scenes with Sammy Davis, Jr. were added for its American release.[8] In 1989 an American version (renamed Mack the Knife) was released, directed by Menahem Golan, with Raúl Juliá as Macheath, Richard Harris as Peachum, Julie Walters as Mrs Peachum, Bill Nighy as Tiger Brown, Julia Migenes as Jenny, and Roger Daltrey as the Street Singer.[9] Andy Serkis has announced a collaboration with musician Nick Cave on a motion capture film of The Threepenny Opera.[10]

See also

References

  1. ^ The word "threepenny" refers to a coin in Britain's pre-decimal currency; the musical's title in its English-language translation reflects the common pronunciation of that coin ("THREP-penny"). The coin was discontinued in 1971 after the decimalization of sterling.
  2. ^ In an acknowledgement of the earlier work, Weill sets his opening number, Morgenchoral des Peachum, to the music used by composer Pepusch in Gay's original.
  3. ^ Pet Shop Boys: Alternative, disc 2, track 8
  4. ^ Suskin, Steven. "On the Record: Ernest In Love, Marco Polo, Puppets and Maury Yeston", Playbill.com, August 10, 2003.
  5. ^ Threepenny on Broadway official site
  6. ^ Aisling Arts site
  7. ^ Amadeus Almanac 31 August 1928, accessed 16 October 2009
  8. ^ Die Dreigroschenoper (1962) at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Mack the Knife (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "Serkis, Cave plan motion-capture Opera" by Mike Goodridge, ScreenDaily.com (15 February 2010)

Sources

  • Amadeus Almanac (31 August 1928), accessed 6 January 2009
  • Hinton, S: Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera (Cambridge, 1990)
  • Brockett, Oscar G. and Hildy, Franklin J, History of The Theatre, Allyn and Bacon, 2002 (9th Edition), ISBN 0-205-35878-0
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-869164-5
  • Haas, Michael and Uekermann, Gerd: Zu unserer Aufnahme, Booklet accompanying the 1988 recording, Decca Record Company Limited London, 430-075.

External links


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