The Threepenny Opera Mass Market Paperback – Jan 11 1994
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One of the greatest poets and dramatists of our century
Authoritative student edition of Brecht's most performed play. A vicious satire on the bourgeois capitalist society of the Weimar Republic, but set in a mock Victorian Soho.This edition features a full commentary and study aids and is the definitive edition for students. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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The Threepenny Opera is so well known and sought after (without many taking the time seriously to study it) that it can be pricey here on the open amazonian market. Don't go for the collector's editions; go for the one you can throw into a pocket and pull out and read. Get the book you will read.
Grove once more, like Beckett, comes to the rescue. Grove (and its Black Cat Evergreen extension) over forty years ago was noted for alone publishing what others would not. Over forty years later Grove's mass market editions still make available to us what otherwise might be out of reach. Bertolt Brecht, the banned playwright, remains here easily acquired, and read.
Certainly this is a bare bones edition. Other critical editions and essays are avaialble, but this is something very portable and readable. For instance for critical essays you might find Bertolt Brecht and Critical Theory: Marxism, Modernity and the Threepenny Lawsuit of interest. The Threepenny Opera (Penguin Classics) may contain more supplementary materials (I do not know). But I find what is supplied here adequate for now, and for reading.
We find here the lyrics to the songs at the proper place in the play, but not Kurt Weil's music. We do have a deeply moving (in the end) and eloquently written Foreword by Lotte Lenya who created her career here, and whose definitive presentation may yet be seen in The Threepenny Opera - Criterion Collection.
We also have included here the excellent stage notes to the actors by the author, Bertolt Brecht, who after general political and philosophical comments about the dramatic arts, gives precise suggestions for staging his play, including never to cut the horse in the end.
In fact, he gives some very good direction for our only surviving widespread and popular form of live dramatic entertainment - the local karaoke: "The actor must not only sing but show a man who is singing. He does not attempt so much to project the emotional content of the song (can one offer others food which one has already eaten?) as to display gestures which are, so to speak, the customs and usages of the body. To this end, he would do well, when studying his part, to use not the words of the text, but common current forms of speech which express similar meanings in the everyday idiom. So as far as the melody is concerned, he need not follow it blindly; there is a way of speaking-against-the-music which can be very effective just because of an obstinate matter-of-factness, independent of and incorruptible by the music and rhythm. If he drops into the melody, this must be an event; to emphasize this, the actor can show clearly his own delight in the melody (pp. 106-107)." SO next time you are forced at a wedding, etc., to sing Karaoke, just read it, against the music, until discovering a section you enjoy singing, and make it show!
I avoid the story for now, as it should be well known to everyone. As Lenya's foreword recounts well, Brecht based this play on an excellent and popular work from the early 1700's by John Gay which mocked the official extortion and theft by the London aristocracy. These well sanctioned thieves and immoral organized crime was thinly disguised with the trade of much poorer (as less royally favored) thieves who were liable for the courts for not having received royal license and monopolies (at a price). That earlier play is called The Beggar's Opera, By John Gay; To Which Is Added the Music To Each Song, available now in several editions, and also a DVD production starring the Who's Roger Daltrey at John Gay - The Beggar's Opera / Jonathan Miller · John Eliot Gardiner · Roger Daltrey · English Baroque Soloists. Yale's ubiquitous Harold Bloom also offers a critical edition at John Gay's the Beggar's Opera (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations).
Please read this book, as being the most easily available, and open yourself for further study of this work and related works, including the interesting remarks on the evils of corporate capitalist globalization which close Sacramentum Caritatis: el Sacramento de la Caridad: una Exhortacion Apostolica Postsinodal. This present work available in a variety of translations (of varying literalness or free translation and interpretation) and formats, including Die Dreigroschenoper: Berlin 1930 and The Threepenny Opera (1954 New York Cast) (Blitzstein Adaptation).
The plot line is rather simply-MacHealth, a former British imperial soldier, has struck out on his own in dog-eat dog London and has created a name for himself as a master criminal and seducer of the ladies. Other forces including the constabulary, a small disreputable but conniving businessman and, let us be politically correct here, some sexual workers combine in an attempt to deprive Mac of life and limb. However luck and a royal coronation combine to thwart those best laid plans. All of this is performed in a light operatic format that allows Brecht to wax poetic at humanity's plight through a series of sharply-etched songs in which he collaborated with the legendary Kurt Weill.
Above I referred to some controversy about Brecht's intention in this work. That the roguish, incipient capitalist MacHealth is saved in the end through royal intervention has caused some commentators to argue for the organic connection between the rising capitalist class and the monarchy in England. Others have noted the similarities in appetite between the lumpenproletariat element as represented by MacHealth and his criminal crew and the developing capitalism of the time. I think that both views overdraw what one can take out of Gay's story or Brecht's adaptation. This story line is much more conducive to a generalized treatment on the nature of survival in a world that has broken from its agrarian past and has not yet stabilized it bourgeois norms of propriety. Some of these same characteristics were played out in the development of American capitalism, especially in the Wild West. But as presented here this is only a rudimentary outline of where things could go. I stand by my comment in the first paragraph about the unmediated nature of Brecht's take on Gay's little work. He most definitely got more focused on the nature of the human plight under capitalism latter as he developed as a Marxist.