Friday, 15 October 2010

Theatre That Entertains or Theatre That Makes You Think? The Threepenny Opera in Montreal

Interesting experience the other night when we went to see the Théatre de Nouveau monde's production of l'Opéra de quatre sous, or The Threepenny Opera by Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

The show opened with a shortened, trilingual version of that Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald hit, Mac the Knife, performed in German, English and French which put us, at least, immediately in the mood for a musical and political evening that transcends borders. The production is bumped up in time from the late 1920s (the original production dates from 1928) to 1961 at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. But the criticism of the police, the linking of corruption, poverty and crime, and the damning of ordinary charity remain very current.

I went back to read the reviews afterwards, to discover that the pointed humour was well-appreciated on opening night. This certainly was not the case the night we were there. Even though the Opéra was brilliantly staged with fine musicians and quite respectable singing, the audience didn't give the enthusiastic response it usually does to TNM productions.

It is as if those there were extremely uncomfortable with the resonances to life now. Perhaps they were remembering the man vending the magazine The Intinerant outside the entrance or the recent scandals about the appointment of judges or the inquiry into the shooting death of a street gang member a couple of years ago by police, or any of a number of other present day problems.

Why this was, I suspect, lies underneath the question asked by the man behind us as we shuffled our way out after the show: "Why didn't they sing Mac the Knife all the way through?" If you spend good money to go to the theatre, you may want only to be entertained. You may not want to be asked to make connections between what happens on the stage and real life.

But doing that is just what the politically-engaged Brecht and Weill wanted us to do.

Here's Ute Lemper's version of the original

And Bobby Darin's translation:

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it, ah, out of sight
Ya know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, oh, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red

Now on the sidewalk, huh, huh, whoo sunny morning, un huh
Lies a body just oozin' life, eek
And someone’s sneakin' ‘round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There's a tugboat, huh, huh, down by the river dontcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a'drooppin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town

Now d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller?
He disappeared, babe
After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?

Now Jenny Diver, ho, ho, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
Ooh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town
Look out Macky's back!

I said Jenny Diver, whoa, Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town.....

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