The Threepenny Opera

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For the 1931 film, see The Threepenny Opera (1931 film). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_0

For the 1990 film, see Mack the Knife (1989 film). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_1

The Threepenny Opera_table_infobox_0

Die Dreigroschenoper

The Threepenny OperaThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_0_0

MusicThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_1_0 Kurt WeillThe Threepenny Opera_cell_0_1_1
LyricsThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_2_0 Bertolt Brecht

Uncredited: François Villon (four songs translated by K. L. Ammer)The Threepenny Opera_cell_0_2_1

BookThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_3_0 Bertolt BrechtThe Threepenny Opera_cell_0_3_1
BasisThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_4_0 The Beggar's Opera by John Gay, translated by Elisabeth HauptmannThe Threepenny Opera_cell_0_4_1
PremiereThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_0_5_0 31 August 1928: Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, BerlinThe Threepenny Opera_cell_0_5_1

The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) is a "play with music" by Bertolt Brecht, adapted from a translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann of John Gay's 18th-century English ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera, and four ballads by François Villon, with music by Kurt Weill. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_2

Although there is debate as to how much, if any, Hauptmann might have contributed to the text, Brecht is usually listed as sole author. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_3

The work offers a socialist critique of the capitalist world. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_4

It opened on 31 August 1928 at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_5

Songs from The Threepenny Opera have been widely covered and become standards, most notably "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife") and "Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_6

Background The Threepenny Opera_section_0

Origins The Threepenny Opera_section_1

In the winter of 1927–28, Elizabeth Hauptmann, Brecht's lover at the time, received a copy of Gay's play from friends in England and, fascinated by the female characters and its critique of the condition of the London poor, began translating it into German. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_7

Brecht at first took little interest in her translation project, but in April 1928 he attempted to interest the impresario Ernst Josef Aufricht [] in a play he was writing called Fleischhacker, which he had, in fact, already promised to another producer. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_8

Aufricht was seeking a production to launch his new theatre company at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, but was not impressed by the sound of Fleischhacker. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_9

Brecht immediately proposed a translation of The Beggar's Opera instead, claiming that he himself had been translating it. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_10

He delivered Hauptmann's translation to Aufricht, who immediately signed a contract for it. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_11

Brecht's major addition to Hauptmann's text was the addition of four songs by the French poet François Villon. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_12

Rather than translate the French himself, he used (uncredited) the translations by K. L. Ammer (Karl Anton Klammer []), the same source he had been using since his earliest plays. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_13

The score by Weill uses only one of the melodies which Johann Christoph Pepusch wrote for the original Beggar's Opera. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_14

The title Die Dreigroschenoper was determined only a week before the opening; it had been previously announced as simply The Beggar's Opera (in English), with the subtitle "Die Luden-Oper" ("The Pimp's Opera"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_15

Writing in 1929, Weill made the political and artistic intents of the work clear: The Threepenny Opera_sentence_16

Weill claimed at the time that "music cannot further the action of the play or create its background", but achieves its proper value when it interrupts the action at the right moments." The Threepenny Opera_sentence_17

Music The Threepenny Opera_section_2

Weill's score shows the influence of jazz and German dance music of the time. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_18

The orchestration involves a small ensemble with a good deal of doubling-up on instruments (in the original performances, for example, some 7 players covered a total of 23 instrumental parts, though modern performances typically use a few more players). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_19

Premieres The Threepenny Opera_section_3

Germany The Threepenny Opera_section_4

The Threepenny Opera was first performed at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in 1928 on a set designed by Caspar Neher. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_20

Despite an initially poor reception, it became a great success, playing 400 times in the next two years. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_21

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_22

Ironically the production became a great favourite of Berlin's "smart set" – Count Harry Kessler recorded in his diary meeting at the performance an ambassador and a director of the Dresdner Bank (and their wives), and concluded "One simply has to have been there." The Threepenny Opera_sentence_23

Critics did not fail to notice that Brecht had included the four Villon songs translated by Ammer. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_24

Brecht responded by saying that he had "a fundamental laxity in questions of literary property." The Threepenny Opera_sentence_25

By 1933, when Weill and Brecht were forced to leave Germany by the Nazi seizure of power, the play had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times on European stages. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_26

United Kingdom The Threepenny Opera_section_5

In the United Kingdom, the first fully staged performance was given on 9 February 1956, under Berthold Goldschmidt, although there had been a concert performance in 1933, and a semi-staged performance on 28 July 1938. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_27

In between, on 8 February 1935 Edward Clark conducted the first British broadcast of the work. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_28

It received scathing reviews from Ernest Newman and other critics. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_29

But the most savage criticism came from Weill himself, who described it privately as "... the worst performance imaginable … the whole thing was completely misunderstood". The Threepenny Opera_sentence_30

But his criticisms seem to have been for the concept of the piece as a Germanised version of The Beggar's Opera, rather than for Clark's conducting of it, of which Weill made no mention. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_31

US The Threepenny Opera_section_6

America was introduced to the work by the film version of G. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_32 W. Pabst, which opened in New York in 1931. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_33

The first American production, adapted into English by Gifford Cochran and Jerrold Krimsky and staged by Francesco von Mendelssohn, featured Robert Chisholm as Macheath. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_34

It opened on Broadway at the Empire Theatre, on April 13, 1933, and closed after 12 performances. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_35

Mixed reviews praised the music but slammed the production, with the critic Gilbert Gabriel calling it "a dreary enigma". The Threepenny Opera_sentence_36

France The Threepenny Opera_section_7

A French version produced by Gaston Baty and written by Ninon Steinhof and André Mauprey was presented in October 1930 at the Théâtre Montparnasse in Paris. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_37

It was rendered as L'Opéra de quat'sous; (quatre sous, or four pennies being the idiomatically equivalent French expression for Threepenny). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_38

Russia The Threepenny Opera_section_8

In 1930 the work was premiered in Moscow at the Kamerny Theatre, directed by Alexander Tairov. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_39

It was the only one of Brecht's works to be performed in Russia during his lifetime. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_40

Izvestia disapproved: "It is high time that our theatres ceased playing homage to petit-bourgeois bad taste and instead turned to more relevant themes." The Threepenny Opera_sentence_41

Italy The Threepenny Opera_section_9

The first Italian production, titled L'opera da tre soldi and directed by Giorgio Strehler, premiered at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan on 27 February 1956 in the presence of Bertolt Brecht. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_42

The cast included: Tino Carraro (Mackie), Mario Carotenuto (Peachum), Marina Bonfigli [] (Polly), Milly (Jenny), Enzo Tarascio [] (Chief of Police). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_43

The conductor was Bruno Maderna. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_44

Set designs were by Luciano Damiani and Teo Otto; costume design by Ezio Frigerio. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_45

Roles The Threepenny Opera_section_10

The Threepenny Opera_table_general_1

RoleThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_1_0_0 Voice typeThe Threepenny Opera_header_cell_1_0_1 Premiere cast, August 31, 1928

(Conductor: Theo Mackeben)The Threepenny Opera_header_cell_1_0_2

Macheath ("Mackie Messer"/"Mack the Knife"), London's greatest and most notorious criminalThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_1_0 tenor/baritoneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_1_1 Harald PaulsenThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_1_2
Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, the "Beggar's Friend", controller of all the beggars in London; conspires to have Mack hangedThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_2_0 baritoneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_2_1 Erich PontoThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_2_2
Celia Peachum ("Frau Peachum"), Peachum's wife; helps him run the businessThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_3_0 mezzo-sopranoThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_3_1 Rosa ValettiThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_3_2
Polly Peachum, the Peachums' daughter; after knowing Mack for only five days, agrees to marry himThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_4_0 sopranoThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_4_1 Roma BahnThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_4_2
Jackie "Tiger" Brown, Police Chief of London and Mack's best friend from their army daysThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_5_0 baritoneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_5_1 Kurt GerronThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_5_2
Lucy Brown, Tiger Brown's daughter; claims to be married to MackThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_6_0 sopranoThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_6_1 Kate KühlThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_6_2
Jenny ("Spelunken-Jenny"/"Low-Dive Jenny"/"Ginny Jenny"), a prostitute once romantically involved with Macheath; is bribed to turn Mack over to the policeThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_7_0 mezzo-sopranoThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_7_1 Lotte LenyaThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_7_2
Filch, a misfit young man who approaches the Peachums in hopes of beggar trainingThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_8_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_8_1 Naphtali LehrmannThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_8_2
Street Singer ("Moritatensänger"), sings 'The Ballad of Mack the Knife' in the opening sceneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_9_0 baritoneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_9_1 Kurt GerronThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_9_2
Smith, a constableThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_10_0 baritoneThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_10_1 Ernst BuschThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_10_2
WalterThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_11_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_11_1 Ernst RotmundThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_11_2
MatthiasThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_12_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_12_1 Karl HannemannThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_12_2
JakobThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_13_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_13_1 Manfred FürstThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_13_2
JimmieThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_14_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_14_1 Werner MaschmeyerThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_14_2
EdeThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_15_0 tenorThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_15_1 Albert VenohrThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_15_2
Beggars, gangsters, whores, constablesThe Threepenny Opera_cell_1_16_0

Synopsis The Threepenny Opera_section_11

Overview The Threepenny Opera_section_12

Set in Victorian London, the play focuses on Macheath, an amoral, antiheroic criminal. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_46

Macheath ("Mackie," or "Mack the Knife") marries Polly Peachum. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_47

This displeases her father, who controls the beggars of London, and he endeavours to have Macheath hanged. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_48

His attempts are hindered by the fact that the Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, is Macheath's old army comrade. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_49

Still, Peachum exerts his influence and eventually gets Macheath arrested and sentenced to hang. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_50

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_sentence_51

The details of the original 1928 text have often been substantially modified in later productions. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_52

A draft narration by Brecht for a concert performance begins: "You are about to hear an opera for beggars. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_53

Since this opera was intended to be as splendid as only beggars can imagine, and yet cheap enough for beggars to be able to watch, it is called the Threepenny Opera." The Threepenny Opera_sentence_54

Prologue The Threepenny Opera_section_13

A street singer entertains the crowd with the illustrated murder ballad or Bänkelsang, titled "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("Ballad of Mack the Knife"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_55

As the song concludes, a well-dressed man leaves the crowd and crosses the stage. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_56

This is Macheath, alias "Mack the Knife". The Threepenny Opera_sentence_57

Act 1 The Threepenny Opera_section_14

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_58

In the first scene, the extent of Peachum's iniquity is immediately exposed. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_59

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 within the area of jurisdiction of Peachum's protection racket. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_60

After finishing with the new man, Peachum becomes aware that his grown daughter Polly did not return home the previous night. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_61

Peachum, who sees his daughter as his own private property, concludes that she has become involved with Macheath. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_62

This does not suit Peachum at all, and he becomes determined to thwart this relationship and destroy Macheath. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_63

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_64

No vows are exchanged, but Polly is satisfied, and everyone sits down to a banquet. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_65

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 Threepenny Opera_sentence_66

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 Threepenny Opera_sentence_67

The old friends duet in the "Kanonen-Song" ("Cannon Song" or "Army Song"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_68

In the next scene, Polly returns home and defiantly announces that she has married Macheath by singing the "Barbarasong" ("Barbara Song"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_69

She stands fast against her parents' anger, but she inadvertently reveals Brown's connections to Macheath which they subsequently use to their advantage. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_70

Act 2 The Threepenny Opera_section_15

Polly warns Macheath that her father will try to have him arrested. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_71

He is finally convinced 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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_72

Before he leaves town, he stops at his favorite brothel, where he sees his ex-lover, Jenny. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_73

They sing the "Zuhälterballade" ("Pimp's Ballad", one of the Villon songs translated by Ammer) about their days together, but Macheath doesn't know Mrs Peachum has bribed Jenny to turn him in. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_74

Despite Brown's apologies, there's nothing he can do, and Macheath is dragged away to jail. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_75

After he sings the "Ballade vom angenehmen Leben" ("Ballad of the Pleasant Life"), another Villon/Ammer song, 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"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_76

After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Macheath's escape. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_77

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_78

Act 3 The Threepenny Opera_section_16

Jenny comes to the Peachums' shop to demand her money for the betrayal of Macheath, which Mrs Peachum refuses to pay. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_79

Jenny reveals that Macheath is at Suky Tawdry's house. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_80

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_81

To placate Peachum, Brown's only option is to arrest Macheath and have him executed. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_82

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. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_83

Soon it becomes clear that neither Polly nor the gang members can, or are willing to, raise any money, and Macheath prepares to die. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_84

He laments his fate and poses the 'Marxist' questions: "What's picking a lock compared to buying shares? The Threepenny Opera_sentence_85

What's breaking into a bank compared to founding one? The Threepenny Opera_sentence_86

What's murdering a man compared to employing one?" The Threepenny Opera_sentence_87

(These questions did not appear in the original version of the work, but first appeared in the musical Happy End, another Brecht/Weill/Hauptmann collaboration, in 1929 – they may in fact have been written not by Brecht, but by Hauptmann). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_88

Macheath asks everyone for forgiveness ("Grave Inscription"). The Threepenny Opera_sentence_89

Then a sudden and intentionally comical reversal: Peachum announces that in this opera mercy will prevail over justice and that a messenger on horseback will arrive ("Walk to Gallows"); Brown arrives as that messenger and announces that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen and granted a title, a castle and a pension. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_90

The cast then sings the Finale, which ends with a plea that wrongdoing not be punished too harshly as life is harsh enough. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_91

Musical numbers The Threepenny Opera_section_17

Prelude The Threepenny Opera_section_18

11. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_92

Ouverture 12. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_93

Die Moritat von Mackie Messer ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife" – Street singer) The Threepenny Opera_sentence_94

Act 1 The Threepenny Opera_section_19

13. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_95

Morgenchoral des Peachum (Peachum's Morning Choral – Peachum, Mrs Peachum) 14. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_96

Anstatt dass-Song (Instead of Song – Peachum, Mrs Peachum) 15. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_97

Hochzeits-Lied (Wedding Song – Four Gangsters) 16. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_98

Seeräuberjenny (Pirate Jenny – Polly) 17. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_99

Kanonen-Song (Cannon Song – Macheath, Brown) 18. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_100

Liebeslied (Love Song – Polly, Macheath) 19. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_101

Barbarasong (Barbara Song – Polly) 10. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_102

I. Dreigroschenfinale (First Threepenny Finale – Polly, Peachum, Mrs Peachum) The Threepenny Opera_sentence_103

Act 2 The Threepenny Opera_section_20

11.a Melodram (Melodrama – Macheath) 11a. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_104

Polly's Lied (Polly's Song – Polly) 12.a Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit (Ballad of Sexual Dependency – Mrs Peachum) 13.a Zuhälterballade (Pimp's Ballad or Tango Ballad – Jenny, Macheath) 14.a Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Ballad of the Pleasant Life – Macheath) 15.a Eifersuchtsduett (Jealousy Duet – Lucy, Polly) 15b. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_105

Arie der Lucy (Aria of Lucy – Lucy) 16.a II. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_106

Dreigroschenfinale (Second Threepenny Finale – Macheath, Mrs Peachum, Chorus) The Threepenny Opera_sentence_107

Act 3 The Threepenny Opera_section_21

17.a Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens (Song of the Insufficiency of Human Struggling – Peachum) 17a. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_108

Reminiszenz (Reminiscence) 18.a Salomonsong (Solomon Song – Jenny) 19.a Ruf aus der Gruft (Call from the Grave – Macheath) 20.a Grabschrift (Grave Inscription – Macheath) 20a. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_109

Gang zum Galgen (Walk to Gallows – Peachum) 21.a III. The Threepenny Opera_sentence_110

Dreigroschenfinale (Third Threepenny Finale – Brown, Mrs Peachum, Peachum, Macheath, Polly, Chorus) The Threepenny Opera_sentence_111


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The Threepenny Opera.