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Authentic rendering of John Gay's 18th century musical, filmed in Technicolor, about Captain MacHeath, a highwayman, and his love for too many beautiful women. Betrayed by Jenny and Sukey, two of his bygone lovers, and temporarily freed by two others, MacHeath is arrested and condemned to death. While waiting to be hanged, the captain is entertained by a musical beggar, who has written an opera of which the highwayman is the hero. Written by
Mike Rogers <MICHAELPEM@aol.com>
"The Beggar's Opera" is a so-called ballad opera popular during the early 18th Century, which used the music of popular folk songs, ballads, and church hymns set to new lyrics to satirize social customs, mores, and especially Italian opera. It copied the 3 act Italian operatic format rather than the then custom of 5 acts. See more »
Sir Laurence Olivier expressed a great deal of disappointment with the way The Beggar's Opera finally turned out. On reflection he probably would have done it as a straight dramatic play. Certainly the role of the swaggering outlaw Captain Macheath would seem to be a choice part.
Olivier had sung before on screen, in Fire Over England he warbled an old English ditty There Was a Spanish Lady Who Wooed an English Man and did very well by it in his portrayal of Michael Ingolby in that film. But the problem is that in Fire Over England he was the only one singing. Later on he did very well in The Entertainer as song and dance man Archie Rice. But in The Beggar's Opera his voice suffers by comparison to the trained voices that were dubbed for all the other players except Olivier and Stanley Holloway.
I guess producer Herbert Wilcox felt he couldn't dub voices as known as Olivier and Holloway. But Holloway was a musical performer so he didn't suffer by comparison.
The Beggar's Opera has been argued to be the first musical play done in the English language. John Gay wrote the book and lyrics and the music is taken from old English tunes and arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It's a satire of the corrupt and bawdy age of Robert Walpole, King George I's Prime Minister and the first person to be actually called by that title.
The Age of Walpole began with the end of War of Spanish Succession and the death of Queen Anne and the Hanover succession secured. Robert Walpole had some very simple ideas on what was best for the United Kingdom. Everybody make money, eat, drink and be merry, secure good trade deals and keep out of war at all costs. You could buy anything during his time, including honor and justice. Merchant Peachum played by George Devine is a caricature of Walpole. A most greedy man who'll do anything for a pound.
Macheath knows the people he's dealing and he does it on their own terms. He gets arrested for rewards, he buys a reprieve. It really did work that way back in Walpole's time.
And he's romancing two women, Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit although the women use him as much as he uses them. Lucy's dad is Stanley Holloway the jailkeeper who's not above a bribe or two from prisoners able to pay.
The Beggar's Opera got a Teutonic remake when Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht did The Threepenny Opera in the last century and the immortal Mack the Knife comes from it.
Still if The Beggar's Opera was to be done in its original form, wouldn't it have been far better to have a group like the D'Oyly Carte Light Opera Company who do so well with Gilbert and Sullivan do this instead of straight players who have to be dubbed?
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