For Christmas, my thoughtful brother, aware that I’d just purchased a new turntable and stereo system, dug his way through the racks of a used record store in upstate New York and came up with one of my prized possessions as a teenager — this 1974 reissue of an early stereo recording of Die Dreigroschenoper in German, produced under the supervision of Kurt Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya. It plays beautifully (dig that Seymour Chwast cover art, too), and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it. (This, along with my daughter, may also be dragging me back to writing more about theatre and drama, as I used to back in the day.)
English-language translations of this Threepenny Opera don’t often catch the sharp, rough inflections of Brecht’s lyrics; Bobby Darin’s suavity doesn’t really approach the gutteral growls of Wolfgang Neuss, say, who sings the “Mortitat von Mackie Messer” on this recording:
But, performed in the right spirit, the English-language “Mack the Knife” can bite. Dave Van Ronk, who once recorded an album of Brecht’s songs, performed “Mack” with his Ragtime Jug Stompers on a 1964 album for Mercury Records; he wrote in the album notes:
“Mack the Knife” is kind of a brainstorm. We think that we do no violence to the spirit of the song in performing it. As a matter of fact, I personally think that if Kurt Weill had been familiar with the form he would have scored the entire “Three Penny Opera” for jug band.
Could be; you can listen and judge below. I’m also waiting on the original cast album of the Richard Foreman/Stanley Silverman Lincoln Center production of 1976, so more then.