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Bertolt Brecht / Kurt Weill Mack the Knife – A Salzburg Threepenny Opera

A play by Bertolt Brecht based on Elisabeth Hauptmann's German edition of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera
Music by Kurt Weill
Unique experimental version in a musical adaptation by Martin Lowe

New production

Duration approx. 3 hours and 15 minutes.


  • 11 August 2015, 19:00


  • 13 August 2015, 19:00
  • 14 August 2015, 19:00
  • 16 August 2015, 19:00
  • 20 August 2015, 19:00
  • 23 August 2015, 19:00
  • 25 August 2015, 19:00
  • 27 August 2015, 19:00

Print programme (PDF)


Julian Crouch, Sven-Eric Bechtolf, Director
Martin Lowe, Musical Overall Direction / Orchestration
Holger Kolodziej, Musical Direction / Conductor
Julian Crouch, Sets
Kevin Pollard, Costumes
Ann Yee, Choreography
Friedrich Rom, Lighting
Bobby Aitken, Sound
Joshua Higgason, Video


In 1728 The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch had a triumphant world premiere in London followed by an unprecedentedly successful run of performances. The Director of Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre at the time, the theatre director John Rich, earned the considerable sum of £4,000, and Gay himself £800 – which led critics to say that the piece had managed ‘to make Rich gay and to make Gay rich.’ In the Twenties of the last century The Beggar’s Opera was performed in London once more – again with remarkable success, a success so great that Elisabeth Hauptmann heard about it in 1926, prepared a translation and handed this over to Bertolt Brecht for adaptation. Brecht made considerable changes and asked the young composer Kurt Weill to write the music to this new Beggar’s opera. Two hundred years after the premiere of its great prototype, on 31st August 1928, The Threepenny Opera premiered at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin – and made theatrical history. What undoubtedly contributed to the success of both productions was the revealing reversal of social relationships: the beggars, whores, murderers and thieves behaved like bourgeois capitalists and urged the well-disposed audience to the opposite conclusion, namely that respectable citizens behave like beggars, whores, murderers and thieves. Audiences accept this critique happily to this day – both plays are too entertaining to cause offence.

Another significant reason for this success was the music – in 1728 popular tunes, folk songs, and even opera arias arranged by Pepusch and in 1928 an original score by Kurt Weill, with echoes of jazz, popular songs, ballads, and arias. Weill hit the nerve of his time in music that conveys not only his own signature but that of the culture of an entire era. Almost ninety years after the original production, the copyright owners and publisher of The Threepenny Opera have granted the Salzburg Festival’s request to attempt a one-off experiment: by adapting the immortal melodies of this wonderful composer afresh, we will attempt to transport the sonic environment of his remarkable score from the dance band idioms of the Twenties of the last century to the sonorities of the second decade of our own. We have entrusted this task to Martin Lowe. Lowe is a Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winner and was responsible for the acclaimed music for the new production of Jedermann.

As the character of the piece may change as a result of this intervention and in order not to conceal this fact – though we shall of course be performing the familiar text by Bertolt Brecht – we have adopted a new title: Mack the Knife – A Salzburg Threepenny Opera. The production will be directed by Julian Crouch. Julian Crouch was the stage designer and co-director of the new production of Jedermann in 2013 and he will also provide the stage design here. In order to convey the full range of Weill’s epoch-making achievement, we will also bring you a concert performance of the original version of the score by the Ensemble Modern, led by the foremost Weill conductor, composer and chansonnier HK Gruber.

Sven-Eric Bechtolf
Translated by David Tushingham