The Beggar's Opera


As was typical practice of the time in London, a commemorative "score" of the entire opera was assembled and published quickly. As was common, this consisted of the fully arranged overture followed by the melodies of the 69 songs, supported by only the simplest bass accompaniments. There are no indications of dance music, accompanying instrumental figures or the like, except in three instances: Lucy's "Is Then His Fate Decree'd Sir" – one measure of descending scale marked "Viol." –; Trape's "In the Days of My Youth", in which the "fa la la chorus is written as "viol."; and the final reprieve dance, Macheath's "Thus I Stand Like A Turk", which includes two sections of 16 measures of "dance" marked "viol." (See the 1729 score, formerly published by Dover).

The absence of the original performing parts has allowed producers and arrangers free rein. The tradition of personalised arrangements, dating back at least as far as Thomas Arne's later 18th century arrangements, continues today, running the gamut of musical styles from Romantic to Baroque: Austin, Britten, Sargent, Bonynge, Dobin and other conductors have each imbued the songs with a personal stamp, highlighting different aspects of characterisation. Following is a list of some of the most highly regarded 20th-century arrangements and settings of the opera.

  • In 1920, the baritone Frederic Austin newly arranged the music (and also sang the role of Peachum) for the long-running production (1,463 performances) at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. The Irish baritone Frederick Ranalow sang the role of Captain Macheath in every performance. In 1955 this version was recorded by conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent with John Cameron as Macheath and Monica Sinclair as Lucy.
  • In 1928, on the 200th anniversary of the original production, Bertolt Brecht (words) and Kurt Weill (music) created a popular new musical adaptation of the work in Germany entitled Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera). In this work, the original plot is followed fairly closely (although the time is brought forward over a hundred years) but the music is almost all new.
  • In 1946, John La Touche (book and lyrics) and Duke Ellington (music) created another musical adaptation of the work for Broadway entitled Beggar's Holiday. An updated rendition of the story focused on a corrupt world inhabited by rakish Mobsters, raffish Madams and their dissolute whores, panhandlers and street people.
  • In 1948, Benjamin Britten created an adaptation with new harmonisations and arrangements of pre-existing tunes. Additional dialogue was written by the producer, Tyrone Guthrie. Peter Pears was the first singer of Macheath.[20] It was dedicated to James Haldane Lawrie,[21] who would go on to chair the English Opera Group.[22]
  • The opera was made into a film version in 1953, and starred Laurence Olivier as Captain Macheath.
  • In 1975, Czech playwright (and future president) Václav Havel created a non-musical adaptation.
  • In 1977, the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning playwright and dramatist Wole Soyinka wrote, produced and directed Opera Wonyosi (publ. 1981), an adaptation of both John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera; most of his characters as well as some of the arias are from the two earlier plays.
  • In 1978, the Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Buarque wrote Ópera do Malandro (1978), an adaptation of both John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, with new songs and set in 1940s Rio de Janeiro,which was later adapted as a film by director Ruy Guerra.
  • In 1981 Richard Bonynge and Douglas Gamley arranged a new edition for The Australian Opera (now Opera Australia). It was recorded the same year with Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, James Morris and Angela Lansbury.
  • The opera was adapted for BBC television in 1983. This production was directed by Jonathan Miller and starred Roger Daltrey in the role of Macheath, Stratford Johns as Peachum, Gary Tibbs as Filch, and Bob Hoskins as the Beggar. The "happy" ending was changed so that Macheath is hanged instead of being reprieved.
  • In 1984 in the play (and later film) A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn, an amateur production of The Beggar's Opera is a major plot driver and excerpts are performed.
  • In 1990 Jonathan Dobin created his period-styled performing edition for the Ten Ten Players (now Theatre 2020) and it has since been performed at a venues throughout the United States. This edition is based on the 1728 printed edition and includes the full overture as detailed by Pepusch and fleshes out all of the remaining 69 airs and dances of the original 18th century production.[6]
  • In 1998, the all female Japanese troupe, Takarazuka Revue, produced an adaptation titled Speakeasy.[23] The play was Maya Miki's retirement play.
  • In 2008 the Sydney Theatre Company of Australia and Out of Joint Theatre Company co-produced a version entitled The Convict's Opera written by Stephen Jeffreys and directed by Max Stafford-Clark. This version is set aboard a convict ship bound for New South Wales, where convicts are putting on a version of The Beggar's Opera. The lives of the convicts partly mirror their characters in The Beggars' Opera, and modern popular songs are performed throughout the piece. The Convict's Opera began touring the UK in early 2009.[24]
  • The theatre company Vanishing Point created a modern production of The Beggar's Opera in 2009 for The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, set in a near-future apocalypse world. It features music from A Band Called Quinn.[25]
  • The original opera was performed in an 18th-century setting at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in summer 2011 in a production directed by Lucy Bailey.[26]
  • In 2019, Kneehigh Theatre Company in association with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse created and toured a reinvention of The Beggar's Opera, called Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs).[27]

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