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Threepenny Opera
     

The Threepenny Opera

 
Kurt Weill's career took him from Weimar Germany to New York, from high modernism to the Broadway musical, and naturally enough, his biggest hit, Die Dreigroschenoper ("The Threepenny Opera"), made a similar transition. An early attempt to replicate the success of the 1928 original in America failed, but Marc Blitzstein's 1954

Overview

Kurt Weill's career took him from Weimar Germany to New York, from high modernism to the Broadway musical, and naturally enough, his biggest hit, Die Dreigroschenoper ("The Threepenny Opera"), made a similar transition. An early attempt to replicate the success of the 1928 original in America failed, but Marc Blitzstein's 1954 adaptation (four years after Weill's death) became a smash off-Broadway success and the longest-running musical of its time. Preparing an English version of the Weill/Brecht collaboration must have been a daunting task, but it was an essential one: No matter how perfectly wedded Weill's sardonic music was to the guttural consonants of the German tongue, Brecht's caustic (and politically provocative) lyrics cry out to be understood in the language of the audience. Blitzstein (of The Cradle Will Rock fame), sympathetic both to Brecht's politics and the high/low mélange of Weill's music, was a natural to create an American version of the play. (Though he's sometimes criticized for toning down the sex and violence of the original, Blitzstein actually made many of these changes in response to record label censorship during the recording of this cast album, not in his original, more faithful adaptation.) In arranging the music, Blitzstein smoothed off the edges a bit, finding a middle ground between Weill's woodwind-and-brass astringency and a more conventional Broadway sound. The singers split the difference too. Obviously, the presence of Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, granted the project enormous legitimacy, and a young Bea Arthur seems primed to follow Lenya's illustriously gravelly example, although Scott Merrill as Macheath (or Mack the Knife) doesn't quite dig in with the nastiness that the music calls for. Lenya created the role of Polly in the German original; here she's matured into the part of Jenny, but she steals Polly's best song, "Pirate Jenny." (A year after this 1954 recording, Lenya would make her classic album of Weill's Berlin Theatre Songs, including German versions of songs from Die Dreigroschenoper and much else.) The other principals -- Martin Wolfson, Charlotte Rae, and Jo Sullivan -- contribute memorable performances that testify to the boldness and merit of this revival and make clear the reasons for its popularity. There's no doubt that Weill would have approved. A never-before released bonus track completes this newly remastered recording: Lenya rousing live performance of "Mack the Knife," accompanied by Blitzstein at the piano, makes for a perfect encore to this evening in the theater.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
Die Dreigroschenoper, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's radical reinterpretation of John Gay's 18th century operetta The Beggar's Opera, was a sensation in Europe after its German premiere in 1928. But the show, with its decadent portrait of the underworld, was less appealing to Americans when it appeared as The Threepenny Opera on Broadway in 1933 and became a quick flop. It took another 21 years and a new English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein for The Threepenny Opera to succeed in New York. Playing at a small Greenwich Village theater, the new version ran 2,611 performances (longer than any Broadway musical up to that time), meanwhile establishing off-Broadway as a legitimate extension of the theater. The cast album, the first such recording ever made of an off-Broadway show, suggests what it was that packed them in downtown. The music is played by an eight-piece band -- keyboards, two clarinets, two trumpets, trombone, percussion, and banjo or guitar -- making for spare arrangements that support the heavily literate songs in which Brecht comments sardonically on the world. The cast is led by a strong Polly Peachum, sung by soprano Jo Sullivan, and by Lotte Lenya (Weill's widow) in the role of Jenny Towler, here given the revenge fantasy "Pirate Jenny." Gerald Price confidently handles "The Ballad of Mack the Knife," soon to become a surprising pop hit.

Product Details

Release Date:
08/29/2000
Label:
Decca Broadway
UPC:
0601215946321
catalogNumber:
159463
Rank:
4534

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Marc Blitzstein   Piano
Lotte Lenya   Vocals
Charles Russo   Clarinet
Chuck Smith   Vocals
Bea Arthur   Vocals
Paul Dooley   Vocals
Samuel Matlowsky   Piano,Conductor,Musical Direction
Jo Sullivan   Vocals
Ensemble   Track Performer
Martin Wolfson   Vocals
Gerald H. Price   Vocals
Gerrianne Raphael   Vocals
Threepenny Opera Orchestra   Performing Ensemble
Ralph Colicchio   Banjo,Guitar
Charlotte Rae   Vocals
John Astin   Vocals

Technical Credits

Marc Blitzstein   Composer,Author,translation,Lyric Adaptations,English Translations
Kurt Weill   Composer,Orchestration,Original Orchestration
Bertolt Brecht   Composer,Text
Val Valentin   Director Of Engineering
Penny Bennett   Art Direction
Stanley Green   Liner Notes
Samuel Matlowsky   Musical Director
Brian Drutman   Producer,Reissue Producer

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