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"With its expressionistic satirising of capitalism, prostitution, militarism and the middle classes, 'The Threepenny Opera' was more brilliant parody than it was scandalous—and remains that today." —The Telegraph
By Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill
In collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann
Based on "The Beggar's Opera" by John Gay
English translation by Simon Stephens
Presented under license from European American Music Corporation, on behalf of The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, Inc., and the Brecht Heirs
The brothel's been raided, and a woman has been shot. A local businessman blackmails a corrupt chief of police. A gang of thieves loots the town for fun. And—come to think of it—Polly Peachum didn't come home last night. It must all mean one thing: Mackie's back in town.
With acerbic wit, "The Threepenny Opera" delivers a cautionary tale about capitalism packaged in a world-class musical production.
Sung in English with closed captioning
Even though we are not gathering in person, you can still enjoy this performance from the comfort of your home. Stream this performance Thursday, July 22, 7:30 p.m. MDT through Sunday, July 25, 11 p.m. MDT right here at cupresents.org.
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Multiple prices are available for the purchase of virtual events. We invite you to choose your price based on your current situation. When selecting your price, you might consider your status as a student or university staff member, how many people in your household will be watching the stream, or what you might usually spend to attend a concert.
The CU College of Music is honored to present this most recent translation of The Threepenny Opera produced in 2016 by the National Theatre in London. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's original 1928 production, based on The Beggar’s Opera by Elizabeth Hauptmann and John Gay, was a financial and critical success and is the work with which they are both most closely identified. Songs from The Threepenny Opera have been widely covered and become standards, most notably "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife") and "Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny").
Set in Victorian London, the story follows the machinations of the morally ambiguous criminal Macheath (“Mackie” or “Mack the Knife”) and his nemesis J.J. Peachum, the King of the Beggars. When Mack marries Peachum’s daughter Polly, Peachum becomes incensed and endeavors to have Macheath hanged.
Brecht used theatrical innovations he called “epic theatre” to shake his audiences out of complacency and awaken them to social responsibility. Epic theater employs "alienating" devices, such as placards, asides to the audience, projected images, obvious scene changes and actors breaking character to frustrate the viewers’ expectations and ensure they are both feeling and thinking about what is happening on stage.
The Threepenny Opera was an early manifestation of this approach to theatre and revitalized social satire at the time, striking out at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society and morals. It is both humorous and moving—intended to entertain and at the same time provoke the audience into critically examining society and their own social preconceptions. The play is a sharp critique of capitalism’s potential to abuse people in the quest for profit and scrutinizes the dehumanizing impact of social, political and economic forces on the individual. In this production, we purposefully lean into the intersectionality of injustices involving race, class and gender, reflecting the current local, national and global conversations of our shared human experiences.
Stage Director's notes
By Justin Johnson
When students first found out we were doing The Threepenny Opera, there were several blank stares and remarks like “What is that?” or “It seems super weird.” When we began rehearsing and practicing the performative nature of Brechtian acting, comments changed to “This feels unnatural” or “I feel so awkward.” Finally, by the time we filmed, their reactions evolved into “Man, I didn’t think I was going to like this, but now it is my favorite show I’ve ever done!” I believe the shift resulted from recognizing they are making a difference through their art. They realized they could say something important about our world and maybe shift someone’s perspective.
The Threepenny Opera is as relevant today as ever because as a society we are more divided than ever. The wealth gap between the uber-rich and the extremely poor is widening every year. True gender equality is still a far-off dream. We can’t even agree that structural racism exists in the very fabric of our society. During the rehearsal process, the cast and I often discussed these modern injustices and how their characters could best serve the message of the story.
What message? Well, the play is typically labeled as a “socialist critique of capitalism.” And while I’m not big on politics, I am passionate about humanity. And I’ve learned over my 51 years that there are choices in the way we structure society that would be more equitable, compassionate, and civilized, and would ultimately benefit everyone involved. Let’s add more diverse voices to our conversations. Let’s listen more often than we speak. Let’s challenge our preconceptions. Brecht said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Let’s shape something new. That’s what this generation of students hope to do.
Please note: This production contains adult language and slurs, the use of drug paraphernalia, as well as depictions and graphic descriptions of abuse and sexual violence.
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