DIE DREIGROSCHENOPER CD, Import
DIE DREIGROSCHENOPER [CD] WEILL, K.
This sinuous, dark version of Kurt Weill's ironic morality tale (there's really no hope for anyone sucked into dog-eat-dog Soho, a metaphor for Berlin between the wars), fascinates and disturbs. The overall effect is of a chamber piece, played with controlled vigour rather than the rasping attack of some modern interpretations. As a result and thanks to the subtle playing of the Ensemble Modern, Weill's melancholy, edgy score has rarely sounded so haunting, or at times, delicate. The voices soar above with plaintive beauty, expressing the dreams and nostalgia of characters living off each other by whatever means they can. Max Raabe brilliantly conveys the vulnerability at the heart of the swaggering Macheath, betrayed once too many times by the whores. He is light years from the rocking images created by Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong in their pop versions of "Mack The Knife". Sona MacDonald is a mesmerising Polly Peachum, while erstwhile high priestess of German punk rock, Nina Hagen brings her distinctive gothic snarl to the role of Mrs Peachum. A note for trivia fans: Timna Brauer, an unusually elegant Pirate Jenny, sang for Austria in the 1986 Eurovision Song Contest. Truly, this Threepenny Opera has something for everyone. --Piers Ford
Weill and Brecht should be proud that artists still mine this 80 year old work for inspiration; and like all great works, there is no definitive version.
The casting is largely very good. No one will ever replace Lenya, whether you listen to her early recordings or the seminal Columbia issue (criminally out of print - what is Sony doing?). This is the best recording of the orchestral score. Nina Hagen who I admire in her own work isn't right here (Trude Hesterberg, who played it early and recorded with Lenya hangs over her performance). Everyone else works and sounds like they would on stage.
Someday someone is going to record everything that is in the score with an adept band and an apt cast. Until then this is the best version that won't cost you a fortune. If they had cast Mrs. Peachum right and resisted a small cut or two here or there, this would have been it. But "Threepenny" won't allow a definitive edition. Brecht was rewriting it again when he died. If he was alive he'd be rewriting it now with some sly reference to computer vote fraud.
What keeps me from rating this performance 5 stars lie in the area of overall aesthetic intention. Although I hearily enjoyed this performance, I am haunted by the prospect of radically objectivist customers condemning the recording on the grounds that Brecht and Weill didn't intend to generate a "realistic" (therefore, illusionist) portrayal of these ruthless characters. It is obvious, that this performance relishes in dramatic/realistic vocalises and in some cases (especially, in the Wedding Song) seem to joyfully engage in some character editorializing, hardly adhering the prevailing practice of letting the words and the irony speak for itself. By the end of the opera, one can almost "feel" MacHeath's feigned regret and obvious rage during his trial and conviction ('Blasphemy! ' I hear the purists).
Personally, I admire the general pseudo-realism (and I am currently looking for a good English version of this fine work), but all in all, the licenses taken by Gruber, Hagen, et al. may be somewhat offensive to the average objectivist Brecht/early Weill syncophant.