Our production team has been busy all summer creating a new and exciting production of The Threepenny Opera, and with that comes a new theater plan.
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.>
Kurt Weill was born on 2 March 1900 in Dessau, Germany. The son of a cantor, Weill displayed musical talent early on. By the time he was twelve, he was composing and mounting concerts and dramatic works in the hall above his family's quarters in the Gemeindehaus. During the First World War, the teenage Weill was conscripted as a substitute accompanist at the Dessau Court Theater. After studying theory and composition with Albert Bing, Kapellmeister of the Theater, Weill enrolled at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, but found the conservative training and the infrequent lessons with Engelbert Humperdinck too stifling. After a season as conductor of the newly formed municipal theater in Lüdenscheid, he returned to Berlin and was accepted into Ferruccio Busoni's master class in composition. He supported himself through a wide range of musical occupations, from playing organ in a synagogue to piano in a Bierkeller, by tutoring students (including Claudio Arrau and Maurice Abravanel) in music theory, and, later, by contributing music criticism to Der deutsche Rundfunk, the weekly program journal of the German radio.
Polly, the only daughter of Mr. Peachum, king of the beggars, marries the notorious thief Macheath. Motivated by his own self-interest, Peachum not only disapproves of the match, but he also sees Macheath as a mortal enemy and threat to his business. He and his wife, Celia, hatch a plan to get Macheath arrested and hanged, but Polly informs them that London’s chief of police, Tiger Brown, attended their wedding as a friend of the groom. The two friends, who served together in the Indian army, enjoy a symbiotic relationship in which Brown informs Macheath of possible arrests, and Macheath lets Brown know when a crime is about to take place.
Trying to catch Macheath, Mrs. Peachum enlists the help of Macheath’s former lover, the prostitute Jenny. She agrees to give up Macheath’s location for ten shillings and tells Mrs. Peachum that even if Macheath is trying to outwit the police, he will not give up his Thursday visit to the brothel. Mr. Peachum blackmails Brown into capturing Macheath by threatening that he will set his brood of beggars loose on the grounds of Buckingham Palace before the queen’s coronation on Friday. Trapped, Brown agrees to arrest his friend.