Sunday, May 03, 2015

Die Dreigroschenoper

After seeing The Beggars' Opera at a local college, I became interested in its related work, Die Dreigroschenoper or The Three Penny Opera.  Now look what I found--The 1931 movie of Die Dreigroschenoper, which until this moment I had not known existed.



Rudolf Forster as Mackie Messer
Carola Neher as Polly
Reinhold Schünzel as Tiger-Brown
Fritz Rasp as Peachum
Valeska Gert as Frau Peachum
Lotte Lenya as Jenny

Kurt Weill's Three Penny Opera, 1928, appeared 200 years after The Beggar's Opera, 1728, and has basically the same plot.  The words are by Bertolt Brecht.

I watched this film on my big screen tv and found it to be charming. The most famous Weill singer of all time, Lotte Lenya, plays Jenny, the prostitute girl friend who sings Jenny's song.  Lenya is not quite beautiful enough to be a movie star.  If you can't make it through the whole movie, which has surprisingly few songs, here is a sample.



I find that I also love this, the song sung by Polly at her wedding, called Barbara Song.



All ends happily. While Mackie is in jail, Polly buys a bank to take on actual power and raise bail for Mackie. Mackie escapes from jail, allowing them to keep the bail money. Mackie has chosen well in his spur of the moment wedding.  Everyone makes up.

This is a treasure which I am pleased to have added to my life experience.  The English subtitles in the full movie are rather bad.  I kept wondering what a "queer coronation" might be but finally realized they meant queen.

Strange footnotes.  Neher died in a Stalin prison camp, betrayed by Brecht.  Lenya, according to IMDB, is most famous for her appearance in From Russia with Love.

Die Dreigroschenoper was written at about the same time as Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, 1930. Both works combine the gifts of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and have a leftist political purpose. These were not their only collaborations, but they are the most famous ones.

Three Penny Opera is a bit easier to understand as a political instrument.  Members of the lower classes band together to take advantage of their position in the world.  One kills and steals.  Another trains pickpockets and beggars to optimize their take.  They band together to demonstrate against the new queen, a sour looking individual who covers her face rather than look at them.  Eventually they notice that their interests coincide, and they band together.  This is a strong statement for the lower class.  You know--workers of the world unite.

Mahagonny has always confused me.  Three fugitives from the law found a city where anything goes.  It would seem that in Brecht logic criminals are the good guys.  Mahagonny is sort of like Las Vegas.  They are wildly successful but break down into factions and collapse in poverty.  I can only imagine that Mahagonny represents capitalism.

If I read my sources correctly, Weill was Jewish and Brecht was not.  Weill left Germany before Hitler came to power, but Brecht waited until after.  They parted ways around the time of the filming of the Dreigroschenoper movie.  Weill's later works are not particularly socialist at all.

I don't always understand the relationship between the works I am experiencing in the Weill/Brecht partnership and the politics they are supposed to inform, but I do very much enjoy the roughness and down to earth quality of the style they inhabit.  Perhaps I shouldn't try so hard.


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