Major Operas | Die Dreigroschenoper by Kurt Weill | Modern Era

Composed: 1928
Premiered: 1928, Berlin
Book by Bertolt Brecht, from a translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann after John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera


The Ballad Singer sings the ‘Ballad of Mack the Knife’.

Act I

Peachum controls the begging business in London. His wife’s description of their daughter Polly’s lover, ‘the Captain’, fits the notorious gang leader Macheath (Mack the Knife).

Polly has married Macheath. The gang furnishes a stable for the celebrations. ‘Tiger’ Brown, the police chief and Macheath’s old army friend, offers his congratulations. He leaves to prepare for the coming coronation. Their wedding night begins. Polly’s marriage is enough to wreck Peachum’s business. She knows too much.

Act II

Peachum plans to inform against Macheath, who decides he should lie low. He tells Polly how to run the gang in his absence. His idea of lying low is to visit the whores at Turnbridge. Mrs Peachum bribes one of them, Jenny, to signal to the police while he is distracted. Brown visits Macheath in prison. He is sorry he could not prevent his arrest. The jealousy between Polly and Lucy, Macheath’s secret wife and Brown’s daughter, spills over into a violent quarrel. Mrs Peachum drags Polly away. Lucy helps Macheath escape. Peachum threatens to disrupt the coronation.


Jenny comes to collect her money for betraying Macheath, who is now with Suky Tawdry. As Peachum is about to send his beggars out into the streets he is arrested by Brown, but is able to blackmail his way out of custody. The whores betray Macheath again. The crowds gather to enjoy his execution before the coronation. He begs their forgiveness. At the last moment Brown appears as a mounted messenger bearing a royal pardon, a peerage and an annual pension.

Personalities | Kurt Weill | Modern Era | Opera


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