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Kurt Weill

The Threepenny Opera (Eng. adaptation 1954)

SubtitlePlay with music in three acts after John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera"
Text informationBy Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann
Year(s) composed1954
InstrumentationReed 1 (cl, alto sax), Reed 2 (cl, ten. sax); 2 tpt, tbn; banjo (gtr, Hawaiian gtr) timp & perc, piano (harmonium and celesta)
DurationFull evening, 55 minutes music
MovementsBallad of Mack the Knife // Morning Anthem // Instead Of Song // Wedding Song // Pirate Jenny // Army Song // Love Song // Ballad of Dependency // First Threepenny Finale - The World is Mean // Polly's Song // Tango Ballad // Ballad of the Easy Life // Barbara Song // Jealousy Duet // Second Threepenny Finale - How to Survive // Useless Song // Solomon Song // Call from the Grave // Death Message // Third Threepenny Finale -- Mounted Messenger // Ballad of Mack the Knife: Reprise
PremiereFirst Production: March 10, 1954, New York, Theater de Lys, Carmen Capalbo, dir., Samuel Matlowsky, cond.
Authorized translationsEnglish adaptation by Marc Blitzstein


After the overture, the Street Singer comes onstage with a barrel organ and sings of the crimes of the notorious bandit and womanizer Macheath, Mack the Knife ("Ballad of Mack the Knife"). The setting is a fair in Soho (London), just before Queen Victoria’s coronation.

Act I

Act I begins in the shop of Jonathan Peachum ("Morning Anthem"), who controls London's beggars, equipping and training them in return for a cut of their "earnings." He enrolls a new beggar with the help of his wife, after which they notice that their grown daughter Polly did not come home the previous night ("Instead Of Song"). The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath is about to marry Polly, as soon as his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings ("Wedding Song"). No vows are exchanged, but Polly is satisfied, and everyone sits down to a banquet. Since none of the gang members can provide fitting entertainment, Polly does it herself ("Pirate Jenny"). The gang gets nervous when Chief of Police Tiger Brown arrives, but Brown turns out to be an old army buddy of Mack's ("Army Song") who has prevented him from being arrested all these years. Everyone else exits and Mack and Polly celebrate their love ("Love Song"). Then Polly returns home and defiantly announces her marriage, as her parents urge her to get a divorce and Mrs. Peachum resolves to bribe Mack's favorite prostitutes ("Ballad of Dependency"). Polly reveals Mack's ties to Brown, which gives Mr. and Mrs. Peachum an idea about how to snare Mack, and the trio meditates on the world’s corruption ("The World Is Mean").

Act II

Polly tells Mack that her father will have him arrested. He makes arrangements to leave London, explaining his bandit "business" to Polly so she can manage it in his absence, and he departs ("Melodrama" and "Polly's Song"). Polly takes over the gang decisively as Mrs. Peachum bribes Jenny, Mack's old lover, to turn him in ("Ballad of Dependency" reprise). On the way out of London, Mack stops at his favorite brothel to visit Jenny ("Tango Ballad"). Brown arrives and apologetically arrests Mack, who goes to jail. He bribes the guard to remove his handcuffs ("Ballad of the Easy Life"); then his girlfriend, Lucy--Brown's daughter--arrives and declares her love ("Barbara Song"). Polly arrives, and she and Lucy quarrel ("Jealousy Duet"). After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Mack's escape. When Mr. Peachum finds out, he threatens Brown and forces him to send the police after Mack. The action stops for another meditation on the unpleasant human condition ("How to Survive").

RolesSinging roles -- Street Singer (tenor or high baritone), Macheath (high baritone), Mr. J.J. Peachum (bass baritone), Mrs. Peachum (contralto), Polly Peachum (soprano), Tiger Brown (baritone), Lucy Brown (mezzo), Jenny (mezzo), Smith, ensemble.

Speaking roles -- Filch, the Rev. Kimball, the gang of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, policemen.

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