These lyrics are from “Mack the Knife”, the famous Kurt Weill song that opens The Threepenny Opera. According to Wikipedia, at least 29 pop versions of “Mack the Knife” have been recorded, and lucky for us, many of them are on YouTube. In the coming months, before Macheath really is in town, I think it’d be fun to examine the many incarnations of “Mack the Knife”, or “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” in the original German. The big question is, how did such a dark song, composed in Berlin on the eve of historic political instability, become an upbeat, popular American staple?
Let’s start at the beginning. The first version on record is by Bertolt Brecht, the revolutionary playwright who wrote the text for The Threepenny Opera:
“A moritat (from mori meaning “deadly” and tat meaning “deed”) is a medieval version of the murder ballad performed by strolling minstrels. In The Threepenny Opera, the moritat singer with his street organ introduces and closes the drama with the tale of the deadly Mackie Messer, or Mack the Knife, a character based on the dashing highwayman Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. The Brecht-Weill version of the character was far more cruel and sinister, and has been transformed into a modern anti-hero.
The play opens with the moritat singer comparing Macheath (unfavorably) with a shark, and then telling tales of his robberies, murders, rapes, and arson.
The song was inserted in the play shortly before its première in 1928, because Harald Paulsen, who created the role of Macheath, wished a more effective introduction of his character. The original German text is:
Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne, Und die trägt er im Gesicht. Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer, Doch das Messer sieht man nicht.
And the shark, it has teeth, And it wears them in its face. And Macheath, he has a knife, But the knife one doesn’t see.”
Serious stuff, with not much for a swinging Sinatra-type to grab on to. We’ll see how that came to be next time.
Madison Opera was thrilled to welcome the Tommy Awards Student Critics to our production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The Student Critics program aims to foster critical thinking and writing skills among area high school students and is a component of the Overture Center’sTommy Awards. Here are some excerpts from their reviews:
…As the lights dimmed on the opening of Madison Opera’s 50th anniversary season, there was an unspoken excitement radiating from the sold out theatre. Maestro DeMain led the orchestra playing Mozart’s sweet melodies in beautiful harmony, and clarity. Then the curtain rose, and there appeared an elaborate set featuring a black-checkered floor, and painted blue draped curtain in the background behind imposing columns that portrayed wealth and power….
All in all, a fun and memorable production (though a little lengthy in its three-hour run) filled with unique, and smooth voices, a playful cast, and many laughs. Congratulations Madison Opera… on your 50 years and your lively, and entertaining production!
…The costumes reflected the personality of each character vibrantly. The set is an elaborate set-up which makes up the scenes for each of the four acts, changing by a quick removal a few panels. It is an accurate neoclassical design which was the fashion of the day. Lighting designer Jeff Harris has many skilled effects, such as sunlight shining in through the windows. On the other hand, the shadows of those entering or exiting the stage can be seen the entire third act. The superscript was helpful to fully understand the goings-on during a scene. The sections of harmony of the music were outstanding, and they outshone many solo parts.
The Marriage of Figaro, directed by A. Scott Perry, is a sure choice for a night at the opera. This comic story is impressive with its overall quality and appeal.
Why do people go to the opera? It’s long compared to other forms of entertainment. It’s essentially a play set to music. On the other hand, opera won’t put you to sleep unless you are bored by jealousy, revenge, and lust. Plus, opera is NOT a dead form of art as many believe it to be. In fact, the fastest growing opera audience in the United-States is 20s to 30s…
…Opera’s are typically longer than most plays, but The Marriage of Figaro is definitely worth the sacrifice of time. This opera was easy to understand and comical. Jason Hardy, who made his Madison Opera debut, was a perfect fit for the role of Figaro. He’s appearance was forceful and strong. Not surprising because it was his third time playing the role of Figaro. He and Anya Matanovic made the perfect couple of Figaro and Susanna. The cast worked well together and are all well known. Jeff Mattsey, who was Count Almaviva is known worldwide for his signature baritone roles.
…The second the curtains opened, I was overwhelmed by how beautiful the show was visually. From the extravagant sets to the intricate and gorgeous costumes, it was clear the opera was not going to be a disappointment. As the show continued, I was swept away by the music’s beauty and how wonderfully the singers performed it. The two most impressive players, however, had to be Susanna, played by Anya Matanovic, and the Countess, played by Melody Moore. Their voices blended perfectly together and their talent was clear in their many duets and interactions throughout the show. Their comedic timing was also near perfection, and they never failed to get a laugh. Honestly, the only negative I could truly find about the show is the length of the opera itself…
Before attending Madison Opera’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro” (directed by A. Scott Parry, a Madison Opera newcomer), many seasoned opera-goers assured me that Figaro is an excellent “starter” for those of us who are only beginning to test the waters of the opera world, and based on my experience at the Overture Center on November 5th, their judgment is keen.
The plot unfolds over the course of a single day- and it sure has a lot of unfolding to do. Figaro (Jason Hardy) is the Count’s valet, and is ready to marry lovely Susanna (Anya Matanovic). On their wedding day, however, Susanna confesses to Figaro that the Count has been making advances on her, and Figaro is determined to thwart the Count’s prowl with his own cleverness. It becomes much more than the basic love triangle when an old housekeeper Marcellina (Melissa Parks) has plans of her own for Figaro, who did not repay a loan she granted to him, and for which he must atone by marrying the old woman. Factor in a lovesick pageboy named Cherubino (Emily Lorini) whose heart pounds for nearly any woman, and gossipy music master Don Basilio (James Doing), and the resulting shenanigans complicate not only Figaro and Susanna’s wedding plans, but the peace of just about everyone else…
Opera is considered a truly great cultural experience, so as a first time opera-goer, the only emotion I can honestly say I felt at first is overwhelmed. Before the show even began, I saw people far more dressed up than my collared shirt and black pants. The lieutenant-governor and the mayor of Madison both appeared to give a speech opening the fifth anniversary of the opera. And then, once the strains of the overture (classical music, already intimidating on its own), the curtain rose on a beautiful Greco-Roman set and the waves of that operatic soprano began to echo over the crowd. As an opera newcomer, it was initially terrifying. But when Figaro began using his ruler to perform an air guitar solo in time with the orchestra, I realized that I would not be in for the stilted, formal experience I was expecting. The Marriage of Figaro grew on me as it became a farce of miscommunication and botched plans.
Every marriage is complicated, but generally most partners do not have to deal with a jealous Count watching their every move, hoping to find a way to reinstate the policy of primae noctis in order to take advantage of the young bride. Figaro and Susanna, the lucky couple, cook up plans in order to escape the Count’s wrath. Unfortunately, they aren’t very good at explaining these plans to each other. From there, everything spirals out of control…
Madison Opera’s Board President announced today that current General Director Allan Naplan has been tapped to be the new President and General Director of Minnesota Opera, the 15th largest opera company in the US. Naplan will continue his duties with Madison Opera through performances of The Threepenny Opera in Feb. 2011, and the company is beginning a nationwide search to fill his position.
“We are thrilled for Allan, as this is an amazing opportunity for one of the youngest leaders of an opera company in this country,” said Fran Klos, Board President. Klos continued, “Allan has provided wonderful creativity and energy to our company, and he has helped us reach the highest levels of artistic excellence. It is an honor to Madison Opera that Allan has been offered this prestigious position. Meanwhile, with a strong board of trustees and a multi-year artistic and financial plan, the company’s continued success in ensured. Because of Allan’s leadership, our wonderful audiences, and our generous donors, Madison Opera has finished in the black for each of the last five seasons.”
In reflecting on his five years with Madison Opera, Naplan commented, “Madison has been a wonderful city for my family and me, and we leave it with regret. I truly appreciate the opportunities that Madison Opera has given me and the support we have received from the entire community. I have full confidence in the company and am convinced that Madison Opera has a bright future.”
Naplan will assume duties in the Twin Cities on Mar. 1, 2011. Madison Opera has organized a search committee and is beginning a nationwide search for a new general director. Klos stated, “We are already interviewing national search firms and we have put a transition team into place to assure the continuation of our business of producing outstanding opera for our Madison and regional audiences.” Continuing, she stated, “Allan will be deeply missed, but we are confident that with our organizational strength, our talented staff, artistic guidance from Maestro John DeMain, and a wide base of support, we will continue to grow and be a significant force in the Madison community for years to come.”
In September 2010, Madison Opera announced a budget surplus for the closing of the 2009-2010 season and increased subscription sales for the 2010-2011 season. The company opened its 50th anniversary season on Nov. 5 with a sold-out and critically acclaimed production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and will continue its year-long celebration with performances of The Threepenny Opera, La Traviata and the Madison summer tradition, Opera in the Park, which most recently drew a record audience of over 14,000 people to Garner Park.
Going through Figaro withdrawal? Well, look no further than this finger puppet version of the opera to cheer you right up. Our charming Susanna, Anya Matanovic, hand-made all of the puppets from her hotel room in Madison, and filmed with the help of our Countess, Melody Moore, and Cherubino, Emily Lorini!
As many of you saw, Figaro’s Wedding Cake Contest was held in the lobby of the Overture Center this past weekend during Madison Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro. The participants, Madison area’s top bakeries, more than exceeded our expectations! The cakes and cupcake arrangement were all different – some were classic, some were Figaro themed, and all were exquisite.
However, there can only be one winner: The Rolling Pin Bakeshop! The Rolling Pin’s cake (pictured to the right) was a seven layer cake that encompassed everything about the opera, from the stage curtain at the bottom to Mozart and the streets of Seville.
Congratulations to The Rolling Pin Bakeshop and thank you to all who participated!