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Die Dreigroschenoper (1928)

Play with music after John Gay's The Beggar's Opera; in three acts.
By Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann.

Threepenny Opera website

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings

Photo of original production

Macheath (Harald Paulsen) in prison,
with Mrs. Peachum (Rosa Valletti) and Polly (Roma Bahn), Berlin, 1928.

Performance Information

English title: The Threepenny Opera
Cast: Singing roles -- Street Singer, Macheath (tenor), J.J. Peachum (baritone), Mrs. Peachum (mezzo-soprano), Polly Peachum (soprano), Tiger Brown (bass-baritone), Lucy Brown (soprano), Jenny (mezzo-soprano), Constable Smith, ensemble.
Speaking roles -- Filch, the Rev. Kimball, the gang of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, policemen.
Orchestra: alto sax (fl, cl, bar. sax); ten. sax (sop. sax, bn, bass cl); tpt; tbn (double bass); banjo (cello, guitar, Hawaiian guitar, mandolin, bandoneon); timp/perc (tpt 2); harmonium (celesta, piano).
Duration: full evening, 65 minutes music
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, Universal Edition, UE 8851
study (full) score, Universal Edition, Philharmonia 400 (UE 14901)
Critical edition: Kurt Weill Edition, Series I, volume 5 (full score and libretto);
full score and libretto (reduced-size version of critical edition; German text only), Universal Edition UE 32 992
piano-vocal score (German and English), European American Music EA 4002 PV
Facsimile: Kurt Weill Edition, Series IV, volume 1 (holograph full score)
Performance Rights and Rentals: USA, UK, BREV: EAMC
GER: SUHR, except former GDR: SUHR/KWF/SCHOTT
FRANCE, BELG, SWIT: L'ARCHE for French-language text and music materials; for German-language text and music material, the agents are L'ARCHE (France) and SUHR (Belgium and Switzerland)
AUST, HUNG, CZECH: UE
SCAN: NORD
All other territories: SUHR or its agent
Authorized Translations: English -- Ralph Manheim & John Willett (outside the USA and Canada), Michael Feingold, Robert David McDonald & Jeremy Sams
French -- Jean-Claude Hémery
Italian -- Emilio Castellani
Authorized English Adaptation: Marc Blitzstein
First Production: August 31, 1928, Berlin, Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Erich Engel, dir., Theo Mackeben, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

Prologue

After the overture, the Street Singer comes onstage with a barrel organ and sings of the notorious bandit and womanizer Macheath, Mack the Knife ("Moritat von Mackie Messer"). The setting is a fair in Soho (London), just before Queen Victoria's coronation.

Act I

Act I begins in the shop of Jonathan Peachum ("Morgenchoral des Peachum"), who controls London's beggars, equipping and training them in return for a cut of their "earnings." He enrolls a new beggar with the help of his wife, after which they notice that their grown daughter Polly did not come home the previous night ("Anstatt-dass Song"). The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath is about to marry Polly, as soon as his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings ("Hochzeitslied"). 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 does it herself ("Seeräuberjenny"). The gang gets nervous when Chief of Police Tiger Brown arrives, but Brown turns out to be an old army buddy of Mack's ("Kanonensong") who has saved him from arrest all these years. Everyone else exits and Mack and Polly celebrate their love ("Liebeslied"). Then Polly returns home and defiantly announces her marriage ("Barbarasong"). She stands fast against Mr. and Mrs. Peachum's anger, but she does let slip Mack's ties to Brown. This revelation gives Mr. and Mrs. Peachum an idea about how to snare Mack, and the trio meditates on the world's corruption ("Erstes Dreigroschenfinale").

Act II

Polly tells Mack that her father will have him arrested. He makes arrangements to leave London, explaining his bandit "business" to Polly so she can manage it in his absence, and he departs ("Melodram" and "Pollys Lied"). Polly decisively takes over the gang as Mrs. Peachum bribes Jenny, Mack's old lover, to turn him in ("Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit"). On the way out of London, Mack stops at his favorite brothel to visit Jenny ("Zuhälterballade"). Brown arrives and apologetically arrests Mack, who goes to jail. He bribes the guard to remove his handcuffs ("Ballade vom angenehmen Leben"); then another girlfriend, Lucy--Brown's daughter--and Polly show up at the same time, leading to a nasty argument ("Eifersuchtsduett"). After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Mack's escape. When Mr. Peachum finds out, he threatens to unleash the beggars during the coronation parade and forces Brown to go after Mack. The action stops for another meditation on the unpleasant human condition ("Zweites Dreigroschenfinale").

Act III

Jenny comes to the Peachums' shop to demand her bribe money, which Mrs. Peachum refuses to pay. Jenny reveals that Mack 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 ("Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens"). To placate Peachum, Brown's only option is to arrest Mack and have him executed. Jenny mourns Mack's plight ("Salomonsong"). In the next scene, Mack is back in jail ("Ruf aus der Gruft"). He begs the gang to raise a sufficient bribe, but they cannot ("Ruf aus der Gruft" part 2). A parade of visitors--Brown, Jenny, Peachum, and Polly--enters as Mack prepares to die ("Grabschrift"). Then a sudden reversal: A messenger on horseback arrives to announce that Macheath has been pardoned by the Queen and granted a castle and pension ("Drittes Dreigroschenfinale").

Song list

Moritat vom Mackie Messer
Morgenchoral des Peachum
Anstatt dass-Song
Hochzeitslied
Seeräuberjenny
Kanonen-Song
Liebeslied
Barbarasong
Erstes Dreigroschenfinale
Melodram
Pollys Lied
Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit
Zuhälterballade
Ballade vom angenehmen Leben
Eifersuchtsduett
Zweites Dreigroschenfinale
Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens
Salomonsong
Ruf aus der Gruft
Grabschrift
Drittes Dreigroschenfinale
Anhang - Arie der Lucy (piano only)

Recordings

Teldec CD 9031-75025-2 Kurt Gerron, Willy Trenk-Trebitsch, Lotte Lenya, Lewis-Ruth-Band-Jazzorchester (1930)
Note: These historic recordings have been re-released many times on CD.
Vanguard Classics CD OVC 8057 (reissue: Line Music/Cantus Classics 5.00951) Liane, Helge Roswaenge, Kurt Preger, Vienna State Opera Orchestra, F. Charles Adler, cond.
CBS CD MK 42637
reissue: Sony Classical 88691932192
Erich Schellow, Johanna von Koczian, Willy Trenk-Trebitsch, Lotte Lenya, Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, cond.
RCA LP GL 32545 Johannes Schütz, Edith Bussmann, Dieter Brammer, Elsbeth von Lüdinghausen, Werner Meissner, cond.
Philips CD 426-668-2 Hans Korte, Karin Huebner, Franz Kutschera, Frankfurt Opera, Wolfgang Rennert, cond.
Polydor CD 543-563-2 Helmut Qualtinger, Hannes Messemer, Karin Baal, Sylvia Anders, James Last, cond.
Disques Jacques Canetti CD 202422 Maurice Barrier, Marie-Claude Mestral, Albert Médina, Oswald D'Andréa, cond. (in French, translated by Jean-Claude Hémery)
Columbia LP PS 34326 CD reissue: Sony Broadway Masterworks 51520 Raul Julia, Caroline Kava, C.K. Alexander, Elizabeth Wilson, Blair Brown, Stanley Silverman, cond. (in English, translated by Ralph Manheim and John Willett)
Neue Welt LP NWKE 3002 Hans-Peter Cloos, Katje Rupé, Martin Sperr, Caroline Chaniolleau, Jürgen Tamchina, cond.
London CD 430075-2
reissue: Decca 478 4581
René Kollo, Ute Lemper, Milva, Mario Adorf, Helga Adorf, Helga Dernesch, RIAS Berlin Sinfonietta, John Mauceri, cond.
Koch International Classics CD 3-7006-2 Waldemar Kmentt, Manfred Jung, Stephanie Myszak, Anelia Shoumanova, Bulgarian Television and Radio Mixed Choir and Symphony Orchestra, Victor Symonette, cond.
JAY CD CDJAY 1244 Tom Hollander, Sharon Small, Tom Mannion, Beverley Klein, Gary Yershon, cond. (in English, lyrics translated by Jeremy Sams)
Capriccio CD 60-058-1 Walter Raffeiner, Peter Nikolaus Kante, Ulrike Steinsky, Gabriele Ramm, The König Ensemble, Jan Latham-König, cond.
BMG CD 74321 66133-2 Max Raabe, Nina Hagen, Sona MacDonald, Ensemble Modern, HK Gruber, cond.
Video BFI DVD
BFIVD661
VFC03794, 03820
Rudolf Förster, Carola Neher, Fritz Rasp, Lotte Lenya, G.W. Pabst, dir. (2 DVD set containing both German and French versions of the film; region 2, PAL only)
Video Criterion Collection DVD
405
Rudolf Förster, Carola Neher, Fritz Rasp, Lotte Lenya, G.W. Pabst, dir. (2 DVD set containing both German and French versions of the film; region 1, NTSC)

Also see entry for The Threepenny Opera, English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein.