Director Barrie Kosky lets the music shine in the opera classic ‘Die Dreigroschenoper’

‘The Threepenny Opera’ by Berline Ensemble. In a timeless design full of scaffolding, director Barrie Kosky focuses more on the love stories than on the satire.Statue Jörg Brüggemann

A new, Berlin version of Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in Holland: is it special?

Absolutely. This is in fact a production of the Berliner Ensemble, where To Threepenny Opera had its world premiere in 1928 and became an unprecedented success. The opera has always been on the repertoire, and every few years a new director is called for. The last was Robert Wilson: his staging premiered in 2007 and has lasted until 2020. In 2009, this idiosyncratic production was shown at the Muziektheater in Amsterdam. The version now coming to Holland is directed by Barrie Kosky.

Barrie Kosky, how do we know that again?

Kosky is currently ‘hot’ in the opera world. He recently directed the opera at the Dutch National Opera and Ballet in Amsterdam Tuscany, a production that was enthusiastically received by the press and the public. The originally Australian theater maker has been the curator of the Komische Oper in Berlin for ten years now, but is leaving after this season to further conquer the world. In the Netherlands, in the coming years, he will direct three operas by Puccini, na Tuscany follows at the end of this year Turandot and after that The thirty.

Playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) Image Getty

Playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)Picture Getty

where goes Dreisgroschenoperen also about?

The story takes place in Soho, London, because Brecht relied on The begging opera by John Gray from 1728. In short, it’s about the ups and downs of a begging gang at the bottom of society. Villains, whores and freelancers populate the play, and between them there are different love relationships. The main characters are the ruthless criminal Mackie Messer (aka Mac the Knife), Peachum, the king of beggars, his daughter Polly (who falls for Mackie Messer) and the corrupt police commissioner Jack Brown. Brecht’s text is intended as a satire on capitalist society, from the depths of society. ‘First the food, then the moral’ is a famous phrase from the play. Moreover, Threepenny Opera in fact, not an opera, but a play with 22 songs. But it is precisely because of Kurt Weill’s unforgettable music that the work has become a classic.

What is so special about Kosky’s vision of this classical musical theater from 1928 to 2022?

Criticism of society is less important with Kosky. His instruction excels in musicality; for him, Brecht’s lyrics are nothing more than a means of making Weill’s music glorify. Moreover, in a timeless design full of scaffolding, Kosky focuses more on the love stories than on the satire, which can now be called a bit dated. To Threepenny Opera has produced a number of classic songs, including Moritat by Mackie Messer Mack the knifecannon song and Pirate Jenny Pirate Jenny† These songs have been sung by many famous artists in the last century. Of course by German chanteuses like Lotte Lenya, Gisela May and Hildegard Knef, but also by Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Sting. In our country, among others, Corry Bokken, Adèle Bloemendaal and Jenny Arean sang this repertoire.

What were the memorable Dutch performances of Threepenny Opera

The very first was already in 1929, a year after the world premiere, of the Eastern Theater Company. Recently, productions of Noord Nederlands Toneel (Groningen) and Nationale Toneel (The Hague) have been particularly notable. In 2000, Matthijs Rümke directed a free film adaptation in Groningen with NUHR comedians Viggo Waas and Peter Heerschop and actors such as Titus Tiel Groenestege and Margot Rôs. Striking: the then very young Carice van Houten played the girl Polly. “With a minimum of resources, she attracts all the attention, her appearance has an almost magical sheen – a rare perfect achievement,” he wrote de Volkskrant back then. Also special was the farewell performance of Franz Marijnen in The Hague in 2011. He has directed Mark Rietman, Peter Tuinman, Betty Schuurman and Anniek Pheifer, among others.

What else are we to see from Brecht?

The piece to be played in 2022: Mother Courage and her children. About right and wrong, making choices, human greed, sacrifice and cooperation. Very topical.

Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill of the Berliner Ensemble.

19 to 21/5, International Theater Amsterdam

Composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950).  Picture Bettmann Archive

Composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950).Picture Bettmann Archive

Even more Brecht and Weill

Next Threepenny Opera the collaboration between Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill led to some more well-known works. to be the most famous Rise and fall of the city of Mahagonny (1927), happy ending (1929) and man is man (1931). Special is also The Seven Deadly Sins (1933), ballet music with lyrics, choreographed by George Balanchine. In the Netherlands, this dance piece was performed by the Nederlands Danstheater, among others.

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