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.>
The opera is set in Loxford, a small town in East Suffolk.
Scene 1: The Home of Lady Billows—The aristocratic Lady Billows has decided to revive the local May Day Festival. She appoints a small committee (the Mayor, the Superintendant of Police, the Vicar and the local school teacher) to help identify a suitably chaste village girl to be crowned May Queen and offers 25 guineas as the prize. When the committee has its final meeting in April, the evidence against its nominees is universally damning (all pointed out in notes by Florence Pike, her personal assistant), —not one of the local girls qualifies to win the prize. The Superintendent of Police comes to the rescue. If there are no qualified candidates for Queen, why not have a May King? Why not Albert Herring, whose timidity is universally known? The rest of the committee eventually agrees and Lady Billows seizes the opportunity to rebuke the tawdry Loxford girls. The committee sallies forth to deliver the good news to Albert and his mother.
(1913-1976)Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the east coast of England, on 22 November 1913. Although he was already composing vigorously as a child, he nonetheless felt the importance of some solid guidance and in 1928 turned to the composer Frank Bridge; two years later he went to the Royal College of Music in London, studying with Arthur Benjamin, Harold Samuel and John Ireland. While still a student, he wrote his ‘official’ Op. 1, the Sinfonietta for chamber ensemble, and the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio, and in 1936 he composed Our Hunting Fathers, an ambitious song-cycle for soprano and orchestra, which confirmed Britten’s virtuosic vocal and instrumental technique. He was already earning his living as a composer, having joined the GPO (Post Office) Film Unit the previous year; the collaboration he began there with the poet W. H. Auden was to prove an important one throughout his career.
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.
ACT 1 Inside the Polka Saloon
A group of Gold Rush miners enter the "Polka" saloon after a day working at the mine ("Hello! Hello! Alla 'Polka'"). After a song by traveling minstrel Jake Wallace ("Che faranno i vecchi miei"), one of the miners, Jim Larkens, is homesick and the miners collect enough money for his fare home ("Jim, perchè piangi?").
A group of miners playing cards discover that Sid is cheating and want to attack him. Sheriff Jack Rance quiets the fight and pins two cards to Sid's jacket, as a sign of a cheater.
A Wells Fargo agent, Ashby, enters and announces that he is chasing the bandit Ramerrez and his gang of Mexicans. Rance toasts Minnie, the girl who owns the saloon, as his future wife, which makes Sonora jealous. The two men begin to fight. Rance draws his revolver but at that moment, a shot rings out and Minnie stands next to the bar with a rifle in her hands ("Hello, Minnie!"). She gives the miners a reading lesson from the Bible ("Dove eravamo?").
Redemption from what? Salvation by what?
Thoughts on Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman
by Joachim Schamberger
Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is one of the most dramatically exciting pieces in all of opera. The story of the cursed sailor who is doomed to sail the seas for all eternity in a ghost ship, and the young woman who sacrifices herself for his redemption has fascinated opera-goers for generations.
The idea of a woman sacrificing herself to redeem a man from guilt or a curse is a recurring theme in Wagner’s work. But what does that mean? Is it just a romantically idealized view of female purity?
The key to my understanding of the story lies in seeing the Dutchman and Senta as one person, not as separate individuals. They respectively personify masculine and feminine principles in each of us.
Wagner's first mature opera, The Flying Dutchman, should be considered in the context of developments in German opera during the first stirrings of Romanticism. Works like Marschner's Der Vampyrand Weber's Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) were a definite influence on the young composer, with their fascination with the supernatural, a generally melancholic atmosphere, depictions of the power of nature and religious sentiment. Wagner, however, seeks to express these elements in quite specific ways, particularly in depicting the emotions of his characters, which are graced with psychological depth and a sense of dramatic reality.
b Leipzig, 22 May 1813; d Venice, 13 Feb 1883
Richard Wilhelm Wagner was born in Leipzig. Karl Friedrich Wagner, a local police official, was married to Wagner's mother, Johanna, at the time, but there is much evidence that a close family friend, Ludwig Geyer, was in fact Richard's father. Karl Wagner died when Richard was six months old. Geyer married Johanna within the year, and six months later a daughter, C&aauml;cilie, was born. In addition to a letter written by Wagner to C&aauml;cilie in later years, referring to "our father, Geyer," Wagner's close physical likeness to Geyer and their mutual devotion and attachment lent credence to the Geyer paternity.
Geyer, an actor, writer, portrait painter and lover of great literature, had a profound influence on Wagner. Richard's formative years were spent in a household filled with love of culture and the arts. Literature, rather than music, was his first love. His interest in the Homeric epics caused him to study Greek in order to read them in the original. His love of Shakespeare induced him to learn English. At age eleven, he was writing poetic drama filled with characters that die and reappear as ghosts.
by Candace Evans courtesy of IU Opera Theater
When asked to direct this production, I was at once delighted and overwhelmed. The music of Philip Glass is uniquely challenging, and the scope of Egyptian history is vast.
My ﬁrst step with any opera is always the music. Why was it written and orchestrated as it was? What did the libretto illuminate? And, most urgently, what was the real story being told? As I listened again and again, ideas began to form.
Parallel to this world of listening, I began doing research. Beyond the Tutankhamen exhibits which toured the United States, a few hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the opera Aida, my knowledge of Egypt was minimal. One of the great joys of my career is the continual expansion of knowledge that accompanies each project. New language, rich history, varied geography, fascinating social behavior, and apparel are revelations within each directorial assignment. I studied books, toured exhibitions, watched historical DVDs, and immersed myself in all things Egyptian, all the while continuing to listen to the music.