The original performers of Weill and Brecht's Die Dreigroschenoper were singing actors, not trained opera singers. And a seven-man band rather than an orchestra supplied the music. The name of course suggests it's an opera, but it has elements that owe more to musical theatre. Lengthy spoken sections (here replaced by a spoken narration that Brecht wrote specifically for concert performances) largely drive the action. And the vocal line is often simply doubled by an instrument.
It's not surprising a variety of performing traditions have arisen, with a mannered cabaret style at one end, a traditional operatic rendition at the other, and the more successful attempts generally falling somewhere in the middle.
Some time ago conductor HK Gruber recorded a version which approaches the spirit if not the specific textures of the original, incorporating his own chansonnier vocals, nostalgia singer Max Raabe, the frankly shouty punk legend Nina Hagen and the crack contemporary music ensemble Klangforum Wien. He brought them to the Barbican, and he again played Peachum in his own inimitable style, but this time he roped in opera stars for the rest.
Some took to it better than others. Angelika Kirchschlager for one. She threw out the rulebook and played Jenny with her tongue in her cheek and a dollop of sauce. Polly Peachum's essential vulgarity was subdued beneath Dorothea Röschmann's elegant lieder technique but she displayed wit and superb comic timing in her spat with Cora Burggraaf's equally sophisticated Lucy Brown.
Ian Bostridge's Macheath was simply bizarre. London's most ruthless, dangerous criminal? More like Basil Fawlty finding a fly in his soup. Angelika Kirchschlager looked as if she could eat him for breakfast, and in an encore of the Tango Ballad, proved she could.
Other parts were well taken. Hannah Schwarz's powerful Wagnerian mezzo gave her Mrs Peachum some heft, and Florian Boesch's Tiger Brown was idiomatic without being over the top.
HK Gruber himself was the least technically accomplished singer by far, but the one who seemed most at home in his role. He even managed to conduct Klangforum Wien after a fashion while he sang. I'm not sure I'd want to hear the whole thing sung HK style, but with the bandoneon, banjo and saxophones behind him, it made perfect sense.
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