Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Celebration of Brecht’s Three Penny Opera at Occidental Center for the Arts

It was an exciting moment at The Camp Meeker Players (CMP) 40 Year Reunion,Our Golden Age of Community Theater.” During the Occidental Center for the Arts show held on Saturday, July 21, 2012, Chappell received a whooping and hollering standing ovation for her performance of Pirate Jenny, her reward for weeks of work, the first time she had attempted a song from a non-Broadway theater tradition. In the weeks leading up to the performance she said she felt as if she was trying to memorize three pages of dialogue. She succeeded without any prompting from the piano player (who had the words ready in case!)
   The song Pirate Jenny is considered the second most favorite song from Bertolt Brecht’s Three Penny Opera (1928). Brecht’s lyrics, originally in German, were translated by Mark Blitzstein in 1954. The music was composed by Kurt Weill. Musicians are drawn to Weill’s use of unusual chords and dissonant effects that still retain a haunting beauty. The most famous song from the show describes the exploits of Macheath, the star villain, Mack the Knife. This song was also performed by Mitch Greenhill at the show (accompanied by Dave Holt).
   Most of our generation first heard Pirate Jenny performed by Judy Collins in its English translation on her 1966 album, In My Life. It depicts “Mackie’s” favorite prostitute, Jenny, who imagines being a lowly maid at a "crummy old hotel", where she endures contempt from the townspeople. In her imagined revenge, a fantasy pirate ship, “the Black Freighter,” enters the harbor, turns its 50 cannons on the city and fires, flattening every building except Jenny’s hotel. “And you ask, why the hell spare that one?”
   The pirates come ashore, chain up all the townspeople, and present them to Jenny, who orders the pirates to kill them all. “That’ll learn ya,” she snarls, and after the terrible deed, she sails away with them.
   Although the song was originally planned for Macheath’s wife, Polly Peachum, it is usually featured in the second act and performed by Jenny. Jenny has given her former lover Mackie, “Mack the Knife,” shelter from the police but she is jealous of his wife, Polly. Eventually, she accepts a bribe from Mackie’s “mother in law,” Mrs. Peachum (Mackie likely had more than one wife), who pays Jenny to tip off the police. Mackie is caught and taken to be hanged. The song suggests that she likes the idea of having Mackie's fate in her hands.
   On this live recording of Chappell Holt’s performance, Dave Holt performs on grand piano, and Mitch Greenhill on guitar.  Mitch, a Grammy award winning producer for his work with Doc Watson, also produced and mixed the recording.

1 comment:

  1. No wonder this was a sold out event. The music is terrific and it's good to reminded of that. "Three Penny Opera" is enriched by your performances. Bravo!