The Threepenny Opera
Music by Kurt Weill
Text by Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann, after John Gay's The Beggar's Opera
English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein (1954)
Conrad Prebys Music Center, UC San Diego
Wednesday, May 6 Friday May 8 and Saturday May 9, 2015 at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday May 10, 2015 at 2 p.m.
Ruff Yeager, Director
Kyle Adam Blair, Music Director
Alina Bokovikova, Costume Design
Michael Mizerany, Choreographer
Kristen Flores, Set Design
Sherrice Mojgani, Lighting and Video Design
We have chosen The Threepenny Opera, an iconic work of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht as our sixth kallisti opera production. Although The Threepenny Opera had its premiere in Berlin, Germany in 1928, its source material is drawn from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, an English ballad opera written two centuries early. We have chosen to perform the work in the English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein, (himself a distinguished composer of works of music theater) first performed at Brandeis University in 1952, led by American conductor Leonard Bernstein.
Why does The Threepenny Opera continue to capture our imagination? The assembled characters seem to be, by and large, corrupt and without redeeming qualities. Mack the Knife is a superstar - a ruthless criminal and lady-killer (no pun intended) who nevertheless elicits our sympathy when he is about to be hanged. The story also revolves around Macheath's struggle to escape the wrath of the cynical Mr. Peachum, whose daughter Polly Macheath has married, and his relationship with the corrupt police commissioner Tiger Brown. We complete the picture with gang members, whores, and beggars - each contributing to a web of complicated (and compromised) relationships. Even the women in the piece are conflicted - Jenny, Mack's longtime lover, betrays him, bribed by Mrs. Peachum. Only Polly Peachum and Lucy Brown seem to remain true believers in Mack, despite the fact that he lies to them both. But through the combination of Weill's evocative, jazz influenced score and Brecht's revolutionary Epic Theater, The Threepenny Opera becomes more than the sum of its parts and bursts into effervescent life; full of dark humor, a predecessor of the musical theater genre and, ultimately, a series of questions for those of us who perform it and those who come to see it.
Although the libretto references London of the Victorian Era, Brecht and Weill confronted the turbulence of Germany in the late 1920's through their work. What questions are we asking with this production? Mack scolds his gang, "Art isn't nice", after they refer to Polly's song as comic, light entertainment. Peachum tells his beggars that "the powerful of the world can create poverty, but they can't stand to look at it.". So many situations presented in The Threepenny Opera might resonate with our time. If there is a glimmer of hope for all of us, we hear it in the final chorale:
Track down injustice not too much; it hounds us
But it will perish in its own great cold.
Bethink what wave of dark and cold surrounds us
Within this mortal coil since days of old.