Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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New York Shakespeare Festival

  • Threepenny Opera [Columbia, 1976] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Threepenny Opera [Columbia, 1976]
No matter how little use you have for musical theatre--I have very little myself--this score must be the exception. Even in translation (the only way I know them) Brecht's fifty-year-old lyrics retain an ironic fervor that makes tough-minded moderns like Randy Newman or Fagen-Becker sound attenuated and cerebral, and Weill's discordant music carries its own charge. Without attempting to compare the accuracy of the Blitzstein and Manheim-Willett versions, I'd give Blitzstein's Theatre de Lys recording (on MGM) an edge over this one: of the current cast, only Raul Julia's Mack the Knife is clearly preferable to his predecessor, and Ellen Greene's egotistical "stylizations"--in Lotte Lenya's part!--are barely tolerable. But the new sound is better, and while Manheim and Willett don't approach Blitzstein's poetry (or prosody), their sexual and political explicitness is an attraction--when's the last time you heard the verb "to oppress" used appropriately in a song? I'm glad to own both: you should sample at least one. Docked a notch for Ellen Greene. A-