The Threepenny Opera

There are many aspects to the brilliance of this show, but the greatest revelation is the singing. Every song is brought to new life and character in this production. The director, Barrie Kosky, considers Weill to be as important to music theatre as Wagner, and the priority given to the music pays off wonderfully. The musical director Adam Benzwi has done an astonishing job in maintaining our expectations of the songs, while allowing tempo changes from the orchestra to let the songs breathe with the singers’ performances and interpretation. And what singing!

this revival and refreshment of The Threepenny Opera fully deserves that applause

With such a superb cast throughout, it is invidious to point out individuals - but I’m going to anyway. Cynthia Micas as Polly, not only brings clarity and control but superbly manages the character’s duality of wise-eyed cynic and wide-eyed lover. Bettina Hoppe as Ginny-Jenny provides us with real depth of character in her singing. She has a great line in barely noticeable suppressed anger, which wonderfully undercuts Macheath’s nostalgia in The Pimp’s Song. And I’ll mention Amelie Willberg’s skilful comic screeching as Lucy. In the programme notes, Kosky writes about Weil’s break with the Wagnerian tradition – and this idea is given wicked scope when Lucy is accompanied by a piano in mock répétiteur style as she caterwauls ‘operatically.’

Of course, this production isn’t simply about the music. Kosky does not take Brecht’s words as a sacred text. He strips out or supplements as required (introducing a new character of ‘Soho Moon’ as a wryly detached observer, for example).

The delicious cynicism of the show, where morality is purely an intellectual game, and the characters don’t have the luxury of behaving as anything other than self-interested animals, is used to great comic effect. Macheath is completely dominated by his appetites. (He is captured to be hanged because instead of fleeing Berlin, he spends his time ‘comforting’ the local prostitutes.) No one is shocked or offended by his bad behaviour. It is expected. Macheath’s two brides are passionate about resenting each other, but they hardly give Macheath’s cheating a mention.

The refrains of Mack the Knife detail Macheath's deed as a brutal murderer, and for much of the show his face is blotted with the blood of a policeman he knifed. Yet he thinks of himself as a lovable rogue, and – well – we all go along with it.

Kosky’s production has a particular focus on love - but only narcissistic self-love. Macheath, especially, expects everyone should love him by god-given right. (There is a certain contemporary political relevance in this.) Never has an actor been so committed to milking audience applause. And this revival and refreshment of The Threepenny Opera fully deserves that applause.

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The Blurb

The Berliner Ensemble takes on Brecht's biting satire for the UK premiere of this critically acclaimed production directed by Barrie Kosky.

Following its premiere in Berlin in 1928, The Threepenny Opera was an overnight phenomenon. Written by Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann with music by Kurt Weill, it was a gamechanger for the genre of music theatre.

The Berliner Ensemble, founded by Brecht himself, is joined by Barrie Kosky for this production, which opens with the iconic song ‘Die Moritat von Mackie Messer’, now better-known as the jazz standard ‘Mack the Knife’. Kosky, the former Artistic Director of Komische Oper Berlin, returns to the Festival following his acclaimed production of Eugene Onegin in 2019.

The story follows notorious criminal Mack the Knife, who has recently married Polly Peachum. Her father is determined to have Mack the Knife hanged. Based on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, this satire of capitalist society is a story about love, betrayal and morality.

A touch tour for blind or partially sighted audience members is available before the 5pm performance on 20 August. Find out more.

Supported by Vivienne and Robin Menzies

Berliner Ensemble / Barrie Kosky
Bertolt Brecht
(text) and Kurt Weill (music) in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann

Barrie Kosky Director
Adam Benzwi
Musical Director
Rebecca Ringst
Stage Designer
Dinah Ehm
Costume Designer
Ulrich Eh
Lighting Designer
Holger Schwark
Sound Designer
Sibylle Baschung

Tilo Nest Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum
Pauline Knof
Celia Peachum
Cynthia Micas
Polly Peachum
Gabriel Schneider
Macheath, aka Mack the Knife, and Filch, one of Peachum’s Beggars
Kathrin Wehlisch
Amelie Willberg
Bettina Hoppe
Josefin Platt
The Moon Over Soho
Nicky Wuchinger
Julia Berger, Julie Wolff, Nicky Wuchinger, Dennis Jankowiak
Macheath’s Gang, Robbers, Muggers and Whores
Heidrun Schug (double for The Moon Over Soho)

Adam Benzwi Piano, Harmonium
James Scannell Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute, Piccolo
Doris Decker
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Lorenz Jansky
Otwin Zipp
Double Bass
Stephan Genze
Ralf Templin

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