Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, August 31

Weill's "Three-penny Opera" in Berlin

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1928, Kurt Weill’s “Three Penny Opera,” whose cast members portrayed thieves, murderers, and sex workers, debuted at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin.

“The Three-Penny Opera” was a 20th century updating of a satirical 18th century British ballad-opera by John Gay, titled “The Beggar’s Opera.” A new German text was provided by playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill provided a jazzy score.

“The Three Penny Opera” was a smash success in Berlin, and within a year was taken up by theaters all over Europe. But in 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, all performances of “The Three Penny Opera” were banned, since Kurt Weill was Jewish, and Bertolt Brecht a communist sympathizer.

Just as “The Three Penny Opera” was being banned in Germany, its 1933 American premiere in New York was a flop, and the show closed after only a dozen performances. It wasn’t until 1952 that it was successfully revived in America. With a new English translation by the American composer Marc Bliztstein, the “Three Penny Opera” was reintroduced by Leonard Bernstein at a Music Festival at Brandeis University, and in 1954 reopened off -roadway in Greenwich Village to sold-out houses and rave reviews.

Music Played in Today's Program

Kurt Weill (1900 - 1950) Three Penny Opera Suite Canadian Chamber Ensemble; Raffi Armenian, cond. CBC 5010

Additional Information

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