The Threepenny Opera
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) is a revolutionary work of musical theatre, by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, in collaboration with translator Elisabeth Hauptmann, adapted from an 18th century English ballad opera, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Premiering on August 31, 1928, at Berlin's Schiffbauerdamm Theatre, Die Dreigroschenoper offers a socialist critique of the capitalist world.
Die Dreigroschenoper is an early example of the modern musical comedy genre. Its score is deeply influenced by jazz and mandates a fifteen-piece jazz combo. Its opening and closing lament, "Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer," was written just before the Berlin premiere, when actor Harald Paulsen (Macheath) threatened to quit if his character did not receive an introduction; this creative emergency resulted in what would become the work's most popular song, later translated into English by Marc Blitzstein as "Mack the Knife" and now a standard which has been covered by Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé and countless others. "Pirate Jenny", originating from the first act, has been famously covered by singer and activist Nina Simone on 1964's Nina Simone in Concert. She gave the song a grim civil rights undertone, with the ship 'the black freighter' symbolizing the coming black revolution.