(NOTE: For information and featured media relating to the Marc Blitzstein adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, see the link below under “Adaptations & Translations.”)
Performed by Lotte Lenya for the 1931 German film directed by G. W. Pabst
"Moritat von Mackie Messer"
Excerpt sung by Bertolt Brecht, 1928
Weill and Brecht
Footage of Weill and Brecht together just previous to the time of their work on Die Dreigroschenoper
Epic theatre insignia in Caspar Neher's stage design at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm; Berlin, 1928
Macheath (Harald Paulsen) in prison, with Mrs. Peachum (Rosa Valletti) and Polly (Roma Bahn); Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, 1928
Lotte Lenya (Jenny) and Hilde Körber (Polly) in the original production of Die Dreigroschenoper; Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, 1928
American premiere of The 3-Penny Opera; Broadway, 1933
Leonard Bernstein (left) conducting Marc Blitzstein's adaptation of The Threepenny Opera in concert with Lenya (center) as Jenny; Brandeis University, 1952
Scott Merrill (Macheath) and Lotte Lenya (Jenny) in The Threepenny Opera; Theater de Lys, New York, 1954
Scott Merrill (Macheath), Jo Sullivan Loesser (Polly), and Lotte Lenya (Jenny); Theater de Lys, New York, 1954
Off-Broadway production poster at the Theater de Lys, 1954 | Design: David Stone Martin
Bea Arthur (Lucy), Scott Merrill (Macheath), Jo Sullivan Loesser (Polly); Theater de Lys, 1954
Off-Broadway cast recording cover
John Melia (Macheath), Vanessa Redgrave (Polly) and Barbara Windsor (Lucy); West End London, 1972
Ellen Greene (Jenny) and Raul Julia (Macheath); Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York, 1976
Broadway revival: Jim Dale (Mr Peachum), Ana Gasteyer (Mrs Peachum), Alan Cumming (Macheath), Nellie McKay (Polly), and Cyndi Lauper (Jenny);
Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, 2006
Alan Cumming (Macheath) and Cyndi Lauper (Jenny); Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, 2006
Stefan Kurt (Mackie), Angela Winkler (Jenny) and cast in Robert Wilson's production of Die Dreigroschenoper at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm; Berliner Ensemble, 2007 | Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks
Traute Hoess (Mrs Peachum), Christina Drechsler (Polly), and Jurgen Holtz (Mr Peachum); Berliner Ensemble, 2007 | Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks
Final scene in Die Dreigroschenoper at Berliner Ensemble, 2007 | Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks
Rosalie Craig (Polly) and Rory Kinnear (Macheath); National Theatre London, 2016 | Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
George Ikediashi (Balladeer) sings "Mack the Knife" with Rory Kinnear (Macheath); National Theatre London, 2016 | Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Jamie Beddard and Rebecca Brewer; National Theatre London, 2016 | Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
After the , the Street Singer comes onstage with a barrel organ and sings of the notorious bandit and womanizer Macheath, Mack the Knife (). The setting is a fair in Soho (London), just before Queen Victoria’s coronation.
Act I begins in the shop of Jonathan 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 (). 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 (). 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 (). The gang gets nervous when Chief of Police Tiger Brown arrives, but Brown turns out to be an old army buddy of Mack’s () who has saved him from arrest all these years. Everyone else exits and Mack and Polly celebrate their love (). Then Polly returns home and defiantly announces her marriage (). 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 ().
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 ( and ). Polly decisively takes over the gang as Mrs. Peachum bribes Jenny, Mack’s old lover, to turn him in (). On the way out of London, Mack stops at his favorite brothel to visit Jenny (). Brown arrives and apologetically arrests Mack, who goes to jail. He bribes the guard to remove his handcuffs (); then another girlfriend, Lucy–Brown’s daughter–and Polly show up at the same time, leading to a nasty argument (). 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 ().
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 (). To placate Peachum, Brown’s only option is to arrest Mack and have him executed. Jenny mourns Mack’s plight (). In the next scene, Mack is back in jail (). He begs the gang to raise a sufficient bribe, but they cannot ( part 2). A parade of visitors–Brown, Jenny, Peachum, and Polly–enters as Mack 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 castle and pension ().
Moritat vom Mackie Messer
Morgenchoral des Peachum
Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit
Ballade vom angenehmen Leben
Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens