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10.10.05

Opera on DVD: The Beggar's Opera (1983)

available at Amazon
John Gay, The Beggar's Opera (1728), Jonathan Miller, Roger Daltrey, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Am I hallucinating? The lead singer of The Who and early music czar John Eliot Gardiner collaborated on something? I already thought that Ken Russell had cast Roger Daltrey perfectly as the 19th-century rock star Franz Liszt, in the outrageous and fun Lisztomania. I had not realized that he sang the role of Macheath in this excellent parody of 18th-century opera that, of course, also inspired Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The production values are as low as one would expect of this made-for-TV version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and the singers, probably like those of the original production, are mostly not trained voices. Since most of us are not familiar with these old tunes, for which new words were created, much of the subtle humor in the choice of songs is lost unless you study the work closely. (For example, Macheath's song "Pretty Polly, say" uses the tune of a song about a parrot named Poll.) Judging from this production, which I was happy to watch when Netflix sent it to me but would not buy myself, it's difficult to see why the work was such a hit in the 18th century, even coming to a theater in New York a few years after its premiere in London. However, what we see in this version, with the heavy urban accents and the poppish casting, goes a long way toward explaining why it was a huge phenomenon as the anti-opera of its day.

2 comments:

Ariadne said...

Speaking of opera and opinions, and if it's true that any press is good press, would someone please tell jfl that over at Sigliende's Diaries they're talking about him!

http://balconybox.blogspot.com/2005/10/verdian-slaughter.html

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes, I think Jens saw it when it first appeared. Thanks!