There are plenty of options of what to do on a Wednesday night in Melbourne but deciding to go and see The Threepenny Opera isn’t a bad choice. In fact I would say its a very good option indeed.
Loosely based on The Beggar’s Opera (1728) by John Gay, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill followed in 1928 by introducing the people of the Weimar Republic to a performance that brought the house down in Berlin. And Melbourne wasn’t too far behind either. The story of a bunch of baddies who continue to get worse – beggars, prostitutes, evil henchmen, corrupt police and a knife wielding maniac who in his penultimate moment dares the public to cast the first stone is bold, exacting in its demand of our attention and builds up to an unprecedented climax.
The concept of a workers theatre producing an opera is a grandiose idea but true to Brecht’s writing the tale is starkly reminiscent of the world we don’t want to talk about – the underbelly of the swine swollen with lies, deception and betrayals.
Directed by Michael Kantor, the production of The Threepenny Opera at the Malthouse was a praiseworthy effort at ‘honouring the original, while updating it to a modern Australian context’ and translator /adaptor Raimondo Cortese’s skills deserve to be commended for the local and insightful tale he shares with the people of Melbourne.
A stellar performance was given by leading actor Eddie Perfect (Macheath) whose powerful voice and strong characterization enabled him to skilfully charm his audience even as he ravished, pillaged and left behind a blazing trail of crimson in his wake. Equally brilliant were Grant Smith (Mr Peachums) and Judi Connelli (Mrs Peachums) who gave much of the performance its humour, especially at moments when the energy of certain key characters seemed to diminish. Also Paul Capsis stood out well in his stunning yellow dress and with a strong and immediate connection with the audience was memorable not so much for the drag queen he played but for the versatile characterization and strong vocal renditions that he displayed as both Jenny and Archbishop Kimball.
Conductor Richard Gill points out that the score for this opera (based on the score published by the Kurt Weimar Foundation in 2000) is recognizable of a musical style known as Klezmer harking back to medieval times and practiced by a wide variety of Jewish musicians. The emphasis on the bitter is evident through the opera for while ‘always melodic, always tender’ the strange taste left in your mouth as the hangman’s noose withdraws and ‘happily ever after’ is restored makes one stop and question whether what has just passed has been in fact a farce all along.
The end of The Threepenny Opera is deliberately uncomfortable, breaking away from what is supposed to be a grim portrayal of reality, almost mocking the facade of creating a work that isn’t being performed on streets of Collingwood but in the rather safe haven of Southbank.
An opera for the people, so it says ‘for the workers’ – but as I overheard an audience member mention as he left the performance: “I wonder how the folks of Smith street would have received it?”