The Threepenny Opera
- In 1928 the new intendant of the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Ernst-Josef Aufricht, chanced upon Elisabeth Hauptmann's translation of The Beggar's Opera. Originally writ-ten in 1728 by John Gay, the work had recently enjoyed a two-year run on the London stage. With support from Erich Engel,* Aufricht convinced Bertolt Brecht* and Kurt Weill* to reconstruct Hauptmann s draft as a musical play. In under six months Brecht and Weill wrote Die Dreigroschenoper and staged its first performance on 31 August 1928 with Weill's wife Lotte Lenya in the cast.Arriving on the Berlin* stage when middle-class audiences were acceptant of sociopolitical satire, The Threepenny Opera ran for about a year. It was sub-sequently staged throughout the world and remains Germany s most successful theatrical work of the twentieth century. Advancing Brecht's formula of "meat first, morality after," the play sets its action among thieves and beggars in London s underworld. The authors envisaged the plot, which revolves around the philanderings of the criminal Macheath, as ideal for maligning romantic opera, in which the audience s entertainment comes from identifying with the shallow emotions of the stage characters.The Threepenny Opera, filmed in 1931 by G. W. Pabst,* is esteemed as the prime example of Weimar "political theater." Yet, when it appeared in 1928, it was critiqued as "bourgeois flippancy" in the KPD's Rote Fahne. Apparently, Brecht only rendered the play s deeper meaning in retrospect. Perhaps more radical than its content was the play s relationship to form and structure. Com-bining cabaret* songs, the use of projections, modern dance rhythms (e.g., tango), operatic standards, and a dance band in place of an orchestra, the authors achieved something that was avant-garde, instructive, fun, and compelling, all at the same time.REFERENCES:Masterworks ofthe German Cinema; Willett, Theatre ofthe Weimar Re-public.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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