Photo courtesy of Madison Opera
Not your mother’s opera, The Threepenny Opera presents a sharp political perspective and social commentary wrapped in the sounds of 1920’s Berlin jazz and cabaret. Most will recognize the tune made famous by Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and countless others. Describing the principal character MacHeath aka “Mackie Messer”, “Mack The Knife” originated in Threepenny. Actually, it was Mark Blitzstein who coined the song’s title, “Mack the Knife” in the 1950’s. The original German translation, “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” or “The Deadly Doings of Mackie Messer” is traditionally sung by a street singer in the opening scene. <Insider scoop: IO will present the famous song with a slight twist in our upcoming October production.>
If you were not aware that “Mack the Knife” came from The Threepenny Opera, you are most likely not aware that the song was written just before the premiere in 1928 as a result of a reported “diva-fit”. Nope, it wasn't a leading lady fit; it was a leading man fit. <Perhaps better described as a divo-fit!> The leading actor, Harald Paulsen, insisted that his character be introduced with a song. Composer Kurt Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht succumbed, writing the now famous song. Yes, we can thank Harald Paulsen for this classic hit tune!
The role of MacHeath has been played by many extraordinary actors throughout the work’s 85 year history. In the U.S., this anti-hero/hero character was performed by Scott Merrill (1950’s), Raul Julia (1970’s), Sting (1980’s), Philip Casnoff (1990’s), Jesse L. Martin & Alan Cummings (2000’s).
The Threepenny Opera is not an original story. In the 1700’s John Gay, English poet and playwright wrote The Beggar’s Opera with music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It was written as a satirical response to high Italian opera and the upper class’s fascination with the genre. The piece features familiar tunes of the day and ordinary people and focuses on corruption at all levels of society with commentary on issues of poverty, social inequities and politics.
MacHeath, referred to as Captain MacHeath in The Beggar’s Opera, is described by critics as both a hero and an anti-hero. While he is a thief and criminal, MacHeath is viewed by some as a hero standing up against the decadence of society.
We’ll be interested to know what you think about MacHeath after seeing The Threepenny Opera.
…On the sidewalk, one Sunday mornin’
Lies a body oozin’ life
Someone’s sneaking ‘round the corner
Could that someone, perhaps, perchance, be Mack the Knife?
The Threepenny Opera | October 11 - 20 at the Basile Opera Center | more info