BLO’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ Is As Timely As Ever Through Its Creatives’ Vision
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, March 8, 2018
The Boston Lyric Opera is bringing back to stage writer Bertolt Brecht’s and composer Kurt Weill’s 1928 classic The Threepenny Opera, exposing a theme that has never really gone out of style. Topically, in fact, the subject matter is right on-target with current political and social issues of class and the “haves and have nots.” In Brecht’s social critique of capitalist values set on the eve of Victorian London and the 1838 royal coronation, “a downtrodden, on-the-make and often un-lawful” bottom-rung of humanity are embodied in thieves, murderous characters, prostitutes and all visions of the exploited, victimized and forgotten.
As the story turns on the relationship of the notorious con-man and criminal Macheath (a.k.a “Mack the Knife”) marrying Polly Peachum, the daughter of another con-man, Mr. Peachum, who runs a beggar-driven business for personal profit, with Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, stepping-up to represent the corrupted law, accepting bribes — the irony is set to turn like a screw from scene to scene. With a current timely focus on income inequality, poverty levels and distribution of wealth, BLO’s production of The Threepenny Opera is taking on the challenge of both honoring the integrity of Brecht’s original piece (“to evoke social change”) while delivering the real-time relevancy to its audience, supported by the momentum and strength of the operatic score.
Manning the helm of this production is rising star and director James Darrah, seeking a humanist focus, to elevate the currency and topical nature of this opera while also providing a fresh re-boot: “How to make an enjoyable piece of theater that also honors its DNA as a pivotal, influential and a potent piece of musical theater — it has to have vibrancy as a story worth telling again.” Teaming up with Boston-based scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat, fashion designer Charles Neumann, and lighting designer Pablo Santiago, Darrah pushes to recharge Brecht’s tale with a visual dynamic of costume, lighting and physical staging, impacting the characters and driving narrative.
Scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat speaks to the collaborative effect of emphasizing a stage set whereby you are “creating an environment that is universal, realizing that time has passed [since its premiere], but we haven’t evolved that much as humanity – these people are still the same.” Ms. Noulin-Merat further elaborates the intention, “to create a universal feeling — that this style setting does not stay in the past, there is a cycle of reality.” Adding to the effort of visual effect, fashion designer Charles Neumann, helps director Darrah take the political story “out of its literal time and location” and as stated by Ms. Noulin-Merat, creates “an integration of today’s fashion and period fashion together – which really helps tell the story.” The retelling of Brecht’s dark political libretto backed by Weill’s sinister cabaret music, with its discordant twists, provides this production a chance to bring the audience into the piece without taking them backwards. Instead, BLO’s production reveals that time hasn’t changed basic character traits and the world we inhabit, and that Brecht’s attempt at social awakening is still very much a work in progress.
Conductor David Angus will be wielding his baton over the proceedings, with Christopher Burchett assuming the pivotal role of Macheath, joined by Kelly Kaduce (Polly), Daniel Belcher (Tiger Brown), Renée Tatum (Jenny), Chelsea Basler, Ryne Cherry, David Cushing, Jesse Darden, Heather Gallagher, James Maddalena, Andy Papas, Vera Savage, Michelle Trainor, and Ron Williams, who round out the cast.
Opening night is set for March 16 with additional performances on March 18 and 23-25 at the Huntington Avenue Theatre (264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA). So make plans to attend this rarely-performed 20th century landmark work which “sends up a satiric critique of capitalism and the meaning of morality when living in slums.” Mack is back!
For more information on BLO, this production, and to purchase tickets, click here.
Cover: Director James Darrah; photo: Liza Voll.