Die Dreigroschenoper

(The Threepenny Opera) by Bertolt Brecht; music by Kurt Weill.
   Premiered 1928. Brecht, greatly assisted by Elisabeth Hauptmann, created this musical by adapting the John Gay classic The Beggar's Opera, which had premiered exactly 200 years earlier. The Brecht-Hauptmann version attempted to place the action within a Berlin context, though none too successfully. Their attempt succeeded largely due to the efforts of Weill, whose music included 19 songs and orchestrations that were precedent-setting in their originality. The Berlin musical theater had experienced few opening nights comparable to31 October 1928, when the show opened at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm under Erich Engel's direction. The action follows the Gay precedent almost entirely, though Brecht and Hauptmann gave events a Victorian background. The characters were Gay familiars, and Macheath was now called Mackie Messer, or "Mack the Knife."
   In the first act, rumors reach the "Beggar King" Peachum that his daughter plans to marry Mackie, a possibility which fills both Peachum and his wife with trepidation. Women who marry Mackie have a tendency to turn up dead, so father and mother attempt to find their daughter and dissuade her from any matrimonial intentions. The next scene demonstrates the futility of their efforts, as Mackie and Polly Peachum relax in an empty livery stable, receiving wedding gifts and solicitations from friends and admirers, most of them partners in crime with Polly's father. Among the well-wishers is the sheriff of London, Tiger Brown, a friend of Mackie's from their days in the military. Back in Peachum's residence, Polly informs her parents that she is indeed Mackie's wife; they respond with threats to reveal her new husband's murderous background to the authorities. Polly swears loyalty to Mackie.
   In the next act, Polly begs Mackie to flee London for his own safety, and Sheriff Brown tells Mackie he can no longer protect him. In a nearby whorehouse, Mackie makes his usual Thursday night visit—where the police are waiting for him, tipped off by the Peachums. In prison, Mackie receives visitors, among them Lucy, the daughter of Sheriff Brown. Mackie has promised to marry Lucy, but she finds out he is already married. Mackie convinces her of his enduring love for her, and she promises to help him. Polly then appears for an unpleasant confrontation with her rival, but Mrs. Peachum gets Polly to leave—just as Lucy helps Mackie to escape from his cell.
   In the final act, Peachum demands of Sheriff Brown the capture of Mackie, threatening to send all his beggars into the London streets to disrupt the upcoming coronation unless Mackie is found. In the final scene, Mackie is in prison, awaiting his date with the gallows. Just as he is about to face the hangman, the king's courier arrives with a pardon, along with the advice that injustice should not be taken too seriously. And besides, the courier notes, we all need a happy ending sometimes.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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