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Grand Valley to perform revolutionary opera

  • Joseph Birchler, of Ann Arbor, and Alexandra Papas, of Grosse Pointe, will perform as Mack and Polly in the GVSU Opera Theatre production.

Posted on January 21, 2013

Grand Valley Opera Theatre will give six performances of the revolutionary production that transformed old-fashioned opera with the fresh sounds of jazz and cabaret style music.

Performances of “The Threepenny Opera,” from the German duo of composer Kurt Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht sung in English translation, are scheduled February 1, 2, 8 and 9, at 7:30 p.m. and February 3 and 10, at 2 p.m. in the Louis Armstrong Theatre, Performing Arts Center, Allendale Campus. Tickets, $6 all students, $12 seniors and $14 adults, are available at the LAT Box Office. Call (616) 331-2300, or visit
Weill and Brecht proclaimed their production “an opera for beggars” when it opened in Berlin in 1928 as “Die Dreigroschenoper.” Modeled after John Gay’s 1728 “The Beggar’s Opera,” which was a parody of Handel’s operas, “Threepenny” also infused new life into opera with music that was inspired by the Berlin dance bands and cabarets of the 1920s.

The production begins and ends with the famous tune, “The Ballad of Mack the Knife,” which has been a multi-generational hit in diverse recordings ranging from Louis Armstrong in 1956, and Bobby Darin’s 1960 Grammy Record of the Year, to the 1991 grunge-like version by the Swiss band The Young Gods, and Lyle Lovett’s soft and slow performance in the 1994 film “Quiz Show.”

A political satire, the opera revolves around (Mack) Macheath, a notorious felon and womanizer who runs his own gang of thieves, marries the daughter of the King of Beggars, is arrested, convicted, and scheduled for execution.

“Though set in Victorian England, ‘Threepenny’ challenges conventional notions of justice and morality that are still potent today,” said producer Dale Schriemer, artistic director of Grand Valley’s Opera Theatre. “Through some creative staging elements created by guest director Dorothy Danner, from New York City, the Grand Valley production will include connections to current events.”

For example, in Macheath’s last speech he questions which is worse, “the founding of a bank, or the robbing of a bank?” Danner provokes the audience with scenic projections about modern banks that accepted government bailouts while continuing massive numbers of foreclosures.

The cast of about 30 performers will be accompanied by a live student orchestra, with guest music director and conductor James Barnett from Chicago.

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