The Threepenny Opera Original 1954 English Adaption

The Threepenny Opera Original 1954 English Adaption

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Die Dreigroschenoper, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's radical reinterpretation of John Gay's eighteenth 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. In his liner notes to the CD reissue released on August 29, 2000, David Farneth points out that, at the behest of the record company, the score was edited for time and the lyrics bowdlerized on the spot at the one-day April 1954 recording session, which explains why songs like "Tango-Ballad" are far tamer than in the original German or subsequent English translations made in more permissive times. But this is still the definitive version of the work in English and remains the best-known recording of Weill's most successful score. [The 2000 CD reissue re-sequences the songs in the order they were actually performed and adds as a bonus a performance of "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" done by Lenya accompanied by Blitzstein at the piano.]

William Ruhlmann (AllMusic)

  1. Prologue
    Gerald Price
  2. Overture
  3. Ballad of Mack the Knife
    Gerald Price
  4. Morning Anthem
    Martin Wolfson
  5. Instead Of Song
    Charlotte Rae, Martin Wolfson
  6. Wedding Song
    John Astin
  7. Pirate Jenny
    Lotte Lenya
  8. Army Song
    Scott Merrill
  9. Love Song
    Jo Sullivan, Scott Merrill
  10. Ballad of Dependency
    Charlotte Rae
  11. Melodrama and Polly's Song
    Jo Sullivan, Scott Merrill
  12. Ballad of the Easy Life
    Scott Merrill
  13. The World is Mean
    Charlotte Rae, Jo Sullivan, Martin Wolfson
  14. Barbara Song
    Beatrice Arthur
  15. Tango Ballad
    Lotte Lenya, Scott Merrill
  16. Jealousy Duet
    Beatrice Arthur, Jo Sullivan
  17. How to Survive
    Charlotte Rae, Scott Merrill
  18. Useless Song
    Martin Wolfson
  19. Solomon Song
    Lotte Lenya
  20. Call from the Grave
    Scott Merrill
  21. Death Message
    Scott Merrill
  22. Finale Mounted Messenger
    William Duell

"A distinguished and delightful work of art, striking, sardonic, original, humorous and always interesting."  New York Post, 1954

"A tour de force. Sometimes Weill writes with sangfroid, with the insolence, indifference and tired routine of any jazz hack. But you are not listening to shop-made jazz. You are listening to a master of his craft, saying in his score all sorts of things . . . with world weariness, compassion and despair, in a tonal dialect which includes some fetching tunes and some apt dissonance. . . . This opera, singspiel, what you will . . . may well last as long as its eighteenth-century predecessors."  New York Times, 1954

"This sordid and beautiful vaudeville of life in a Victorian London slum, set to Kurt Weill's alternating strident and plaintive music-hall melodies, does not date." Cue, 1954

"The Threepenny Opera resists virtue admirably." New York Times, 1956