translated by John Willett and Ralph Manheim
Brecht’s adaptation of John Gay’s eighteenth century The Beggar’s Opera anatomises bourgeois capitalist society with a sharp cocktail of comic satire, musical profanity and social criticism.
First staged in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, the musical is set in the seething criminality and desperate romanticism of mock-Victorian Soho. Peachum is a racketeer who controls, exploits and outfits London’s beggars, and has turned pitiable misery into an art form. He is horrified to discover his daughter Polly has married the notorious criminal Macheath, or Mac the Knife.
Under pressure from Peachum, the Chief of Police betrays his friendship with Macheath, who is arrested in the middle of a song in a brothel. Despite the efforts of his adoring wife and equally adoring fiancée, Macheath is condemned to hang, and the play is only diverted to a comic ending by Peachum’s call for a deus ex machina.
With Kurt Weill's unforgettable music – one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz to the theatre – Brecht’s revolutionary satire became a popular hit throughout the western world.