Below you can find Composers Datebook from today on Kurt Weill's "Three-penny Opera." Enjoy!
Composers Datebook audio
Weill's "Three-penny Opera" in Berlin
On today's date in 1928, Kurt Weill's "Three-Penny Opera" debuted at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, a small, but opulent Baroque-style theater in Berlin. It must have seemed a rather ironic setting for Kurt Weill's "opera for beggars," whose cast members portrayed thieves, murderers, prostitutes and other low-lifes.
"The Three-Penny Opera" was a 20th century updating of an 18th century British ballad-opera by John Gay, titled "The Beggar's Opera." The new German text was provided by playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill provided a jazzy score, which was played by the seven piece Ruth Lewis Band, led by its keyboard player, Theo Mackeben.
"The Three-Penny Opera" was a smash success, 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.
Ironically, just as "The Three-Penny Opera" was being banned in Germany, its American premiere in 1933 was a flop, and the show closed after only a dozen performances in New York.
It wasn't until 1952 that "The Three-Penny" opera was successfully staged in America. In 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 soon reopened on Broadway to sold-out houses and rave reviews.