Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera, by Bertold Brecht

When I first put my Classics Club list together, I pulled from a lot of pretty random sources and I put some things on the list that I'd vaguely heard of, but didn't know anything about.  That way, I'd learn new things!  (This is kind of how I operate in a lot of areas.)  Somehow, I wound up with two Brecht plays on my list, and what I've mainly learned from that is that I do not like Bertold Brecht.  So now I've learned some new things, yep.

The Threepenny Opera is a musical play that was based on the 18th century Beggar's Opera by John Gay.  Although it was originally written in German (during the inter-war period), it's set in Victorian London.  It's supposed to be a savage commentary on capitalist bourgeois society from a Socialist standpoint.  It was a big hit in Germany.  Critics in the baby USSR loved it.  Americans liked the music, but not a lot else; one critic called it "a dreary enigma," and I'm on his side.

The plot involves Peachum, who runs the city beggars; he assigns the outfit (fraudulent mutilated soldier or what have you) and the territory in exchange for a cut of the takings.  His daughter, Polly, elopes with Mackie the Knife, a vicious head of a criminal gang who is best friends with the sheriff.  Since Mackie already has at least one wife (the sheriff's daughter), it gets a little complex, and he runs a brothel as well.  Peachum's sole desire is to get Mackie hung, and he manages to get him arrested, but at the last minute the Queen pardons Mack in a parody of a deux ex machina.

It's all supposed to be very savagely angry about bourgeois society and its hypocrisy and grinding the faces of the poor, I guess, the message presumably being that in a communist paradise with a proletariat ethos there would be no need for crime and fraud.  The 90 years of history that have gone by since it was written sort of get in the way of convincing me of this, so I liked the "dreary enigma" description.  Or maybe it all went over my head and I just didn't get any of it, and if I saw a performance I would be entranced.

The music is supposed to be fantastic, but I was reading a script, so I feel like I missed out.  I'll have to look up more of the songs and listen to them, because of course, I already know Mack the Knife, the most famous song from the play and a really great one too.  I didn't know it came from this, though; I only figured it out when the characters started going on about Mackie the Knife and a lightbulb came on over my head.


So I didn't like this play at all, but I did learn about the origin of Mack the Knife, and I never have to read another thing by Bertold Brecht as long as I live.

6 comments:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Have you read The Beggar's Opera?

Jean said...

Nope, and I really should have read it first! I'm obviously too clueless about this whole thing.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I don't know. But I do think you would like it a lot more than Brecht.

Nancy Leek said...

In life Brecht was about as selfish and vile a person as you can imagine.

Nancy Leek said...

Here's Sting singing Mackie Messer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YokJ2BbdwdU

Jean said...

Tom, I'm sure you are right about that!