Donald Groves (Filch) and Melissa Parks (Mrs. Peachum) in The Beggar's Opera, Châteauville Foundation (photo by Nicholas Vaughan)
The problem with reconstructing The Beggar's Opera is that the printed sources indicate only the name of the tune to which Gay's new words were sung (see this facsimile of the 1765 edition). Pepusch's overture and short scores of the tunes, just melody and bass line, were written down, but later performances all have to rely on arrangements, like the one by Frederic Austin. Britten not only made the work leaner, by not setting all of the tunes or keeping all of the dialogue, he made the work flow much better, by providing some musical bits under the spoken lines, which helps link together a work that can come off as quite fragmentary. It is not a reconstruction as much as a reimagining of this crucial work in operatic history, an early comic opera that laid the foundation for the English operetta tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as for the American musical. Within two decades of the work's 1728 premiere, The Beggar's Opera was staged in New York and other American cities: according to Donald Grout and Hermine Weigel Williams (A Short History of Opera, 4th ed., p. 566), a performance of the work in Upper Marlborough, Maryland, was the first American operatic performance that had a full orchestral accompaniment for the singers.
Sarah Moule (Lucy Lockit), Julia Elise Hardin (Polly Peachum), Dominic Armstrong (Macheath) in The Beggar's Opera, Châteauville Foundation (photo by Nicholas Vaughan)
Tenor Dominic Armstrong was a charming Macheath, with a sweet upper register if not necessarily the profile of a dashing criminal. Michael Rice's Mr. Peachum was garrulous and single-minded in his greed, while the Mrs. Peachum of mezzo-soprano Melissa Parks was a full-bodied presence vocally and physically. Julia Elise Hardin gave Polly a soubrette lightness, while Sarah Moule's Lucy Lockit was noteworthy more for the acting than the singing, which was a little strained, especially in the upper register. Darren Perry and Donald Groves gave fine supporting performances as Lockit and Filch, respectively. A chorus of fourteen singers had an almost too powerful sound for the size of the venue, adding ridiculous extras in the background. The young musicians of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, whose Kennedy Center concert with Lorin Maazel we sadly had to miss earlier this spring, played with poise and accuracy. The flutter-tongued flute accompanying Polly's turtle dove song and piccolo (Nicole Pressler) and melancholy English horn in the prison scenes (Svetlin Doytchinov) were particularly fine.
T. L. Ponick, Pitch-perfect 'Beggar's' (Washington Times, July 7)
This production will be repeated this Sunday (July 12, 7 pm) and twice the following week (July 16, 7:30 pm; July 18, 2 pm). Assistant conductor Jordi Bernàcer will take the podium for the performances on July 12 and 18.