The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) is a revolutionary work of musical theatre, by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, in collaboration with translator Elisabeth Hauptmann and set designer Caspar Neher, adapted from an 18th century English ballad opera, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Premiering on August 31, 1928, at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Die Dreigroschenoper offers a socialist critique of the capitalist world.
Set in a marginally anachronistic Victorian London, the play focuses on the stories of the working class, rather than those liable to attend fashionable upper-crust operas. The protagonist, in the original opera as well as the Brecht/Weill adaptation, is Macheath, an elegant highwayman for Gay and an amoral, anti-heroic criminal for Brecht/Weill. 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.
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. But his moves are hindered by the fact that the chief of police, Tiger Brown, is Macheath's childhood friend. Still, Peachum exerts his influence and eventually gets Macheath arrested and sentenced to hang. Moments before the execution, in an unrestrained parody of a happy ending, Brecht sends in a hard-riding messenger from the "Queen" (the chronology is deliberately muddied) to pardon Macheath and grant him a baronetcy.
The play directly challenges the audience by breaching the "fourth wall" with what Brecht called Verfremdungseffekt, or the "alienation effect." For example, slogans are projected on the back wall and the characters sometimes carry picket signs, or stand at times with their backs to the audience. The play challenges conventional notions of property as well as those of theatre. It asks the central and highly political question, "Who is the bigger criminal: he who robs a bank or he who founds one?"
Jul 20, 2008, 22:56:50
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