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the threepenny opera

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on 29 October 2018

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Transcript of the threepenny opera

the threepenny opera
music in
threepenny
epic theater
the threepenny opera
popularity and resonance
Sensational hit after opening night

4,200 performances all across Europe within a year of premiere

40 cover versions of Weill's score published on disc by 1930

First success in the U.S. was in 1954 on Broadway (ran until 1961 with a total of 2,707 performances)

Echoes of
Threepenny
in productions such as
Sweeney Todd
or
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
It's the subtlety underneath the obviousness that gives strength to
The Threepenny Opera
.
               — Lotte Lenya

The Threepenny Opera
makes it clear how intimately the counter-morality of the beggars and rogues is bound up with the official morality.
               — Walter Benjamin


[The play confronts] the same sociological situation as
The Beggar’s Opera
: just like 200 years ago, we have a social order in which virtually all strata of the population, albeit in extremely varied ways, follow moral principles—not, of course, by living within a moral code but off it.
— Bertolt Brecht



Aristotelian theater and catharsis

Brecht: “In Aristotelian drama the plot leads the hero into situations where he reveals his innermost being. All the incidents shown have the object of driving the hero into spiritual conflicts. It is a possibly blasphemous but quite useful comparison if one turns one’s mind to the burlesque shows on Broadway, where the public, with yells of 'take it off!' forces the girls to expose their bodies more and more.
The individual whose innermost being is thus driven into the open then of course comes to stand for Man with a capital M. Everyone (including every spectator) is then carried away by the momentum of the events portrayed, so that in a performance of Oedipus one has for all practical purposes an auditorium full of little Oedipuses, an auditorium full of Emperor Joneses for a performance of the Emperor Jones.
"
Economic stability in Weimar
Germany (three economic
phases)

Brecht's success

Brecht begins
reading Marx in
1926

Meets Kurt Weill
in 1927
From Brecht's "On the Use of Music in Epic Theater:" "The most striking innovation lay in the strict separation of the music from all the other elements of entertainment offered. Even superficially this was evident from the fact that the small orchestra was installed visibly on stage."

Musical/lyrical influences: François Villon, Rudyard Kipling, (American) jazz, atonal music, popular dance music, cabaret, John Gay's score

7 players play 23 different instruments, Lewis Ruth band (1928)

Weill: "This type of music is the most consistent reaction to Wagner. It signifies the complete destruction of the concept of music drama.”

Brecht:
"
In the
Gesamtkunstwerk
(Wagner),

the various elements are equally degraded."

Weill set Brecht's Marxist analysis to music that similarly scraped away romantic effusions, though songs were catchy, memorable

"...you would hear those songs wherever you went in the evening."
               —George Grosz

"I was aroused straightaway by the raw intensity of the songs ..."
               —Bob Dylan

"...the young Weill’s music is as characteristic as Brecht’s language, as electrifying in its rhythm as the lines of the poems, as deliberately and triumphantly trivial and full of allusions as the popularizing rhymes, as witty in the jazz treatment of the instruments."

—Felix Salten
Structure: Audience constructs its own interpretation of events
·        Episodic, disconnected montage of scenes
·        Often not in chronological order
·        Purposefully open ended
·        Events unrestricted to time and place
·
Verfremdungseffekt

Staging: Audiences sees what’s happening “behind-the-scenes”
·        Bare or minimal stage
·        Exposed stage “machinery”
·        Back wall and wings of stage exposed

Design: Intentionally shatter the feeling of “realism”
·        Words and film projected to comment on the performance
·        Historification – offers historical context.
·        Placards announce when the scene will begin
·        Design looks mechanical/industrial (pipes, wheels)

Music: Comments on the action, doesn't add to the mood
· Discordant with the action onstage
· Musicians are onstage with the actors

Acting & Characters: Actors should present the character
· Even the “hero” of the story has flaws.

Brecht: "A theater that is not geared to 'society,' has broken through to the audience."


Collaboration between Brecht, Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Hauptmann (translator) and Caspar Neher

Adapted from John Gay's
The Beggar's Opera
(1728)

Premiered on 31. August 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm

Offered a Socialist critique of capitalism

Wildly popular; filmed by G.W. Pabst in 1931
brecht and marxism
Marx,
Das Kapital
(1867): since everything is a product for sale, all human lives, relationships and values become products. The workers become de-humanized and are incorporated into the machinery of production

Commodities seem
alien
("fremd") because capitalistic production does not reveal the signs of its production

Brecht: emphasis on production process of the play, such as the lighting grid or the action backstage

Brecht criticized by communists; wanted his audience to "cry tears from the brain"

Georg Kaiser's "Gas I" (1918): "Girl. I'll tell you of my brother! I no longer knew I had a brother. Someone left the house in the morning and came home at night and slept. Or he left the house at night and came back in the morning and slept. One of his hands was large, the other small. The large hand never slept. It kept making the same movement day and night. This hand ate up his body and sucked up all his strength. This hand grew to be the whole man! What was left of my brother? My brother who used to play beside me who made sand-castles with his two hands? He plunged into work. And this work needed only one hand one hand that lifted and that pressed the lever minute after minute up and down, to the very second!"

aristotelian vs. epic theater
the
gestus
and "gestic music"
Gestus
: Brecht's term for that which expresses basic human attitudes. The actor should express social attitudes in clear and stylized ways. For Weill, "Gestus" meant the simplification of musical means to express the realities of modern society

Music breaks illusion of reality by fragmenting narrative

In the Epic Theater, music provokes thought, dispels illusion and drives out emotion

Gestic music thus informs the audience about the "correct" intellectual response to the drama

Brecht: "When the epic theater’s methods begin to penetrate the opera the first result is a radical separation of the elements."




ON EVERYDAY THEATER

You artists who perform plays
In great houses under electric suns
Before the hushed crowd, pay a visit some time
To that theatre whose setting is the street.
The everyday, thousandfold, fameless
But vivid, earthy theatre fed by the daily human contact
Which takes place in the street.
Here the woman from next door imitates the landlord:
Demonstrating his flood of talk she makes it clear
How he tried to turn the conversation
From the burst water pipe. In the parks at night
Young fellows show giggling girls
The way they resist, and in resisting
Slyly flaunt their breasts. A drunk
Gives us the preacher at his sermon, referring the poor
To the rich pastures of paradise.
How useful
Such theater is though, serious and funny
And how dignified! They do not, like parrot or ape
Imitate just for the sake of imitation, unconcerned
What they imitate, just to show that they
Can imitate; no, they
Have a point to put across.
You
Great artists, masterly imitators, in this regard
Do not fall short of them!
Do not become too remote
However much you perfect your art
From that theatre of daily life
Whose setting is the street…


(Excerpt from On Everyday Theatre. "Poems of the Crisis Years, 1929-1933.")
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