Vancouver Opera 

The Threepenny Opera
by Kurt Weill
Libretto by Bertolt Brecht
In English with surtitles

Dates: 20 - 27 March 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson


Conductor  Leslie Dala  Director Morris Panych  Chorus director Leslie Uyeda Costume designer Nancy Bryant  Set designer Ken MacDonald Lighting designer Alan Brodie Stage manager Sheila Munn


The Threepenny Opera, Vancouver Opera

It is great fun to see The Threepenny Opera with all the resources the Vancouver Opera can throw at it, even in so cavernous a hall as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.  Ken MacDonald's huge, marvellous set suggests a tawdry, drab, seedy existence in a soulless and mechanical world.

In a piece of inspired staging, parts of the Narrator's face (Jean Stilwell)  are projected in close-up on a pair of large, white balloons on either side of the stage. The effect is eerily Orwellian, indeed Brechtian.

There is no need to distinguish between singers who can act and actors who can sing in this production. Patricia O'Callaghan is completely convincing as Polly Peachum.  With a slight exaggeration of character that can be comic she is a charming mixture of naivete and practicality.  Her rendition of "Pirate Jenny" is thoroughly splendid and "Barbara's song" clear and expressive.

She is nicely matched by Vilma Vitols as Lucy Brown. Thomas Goerz is reliable rather than extravagant as the villainous Peachum with an unexpected (for Peachum) beauty of tone. John Mann as Macheath performs with assurance and an understated menace, coldly aloof from everyone.



Jean Stilwell as Jenny might be expected to be the highlight of this production and in some ways she is.   One can't fault either her characterization or her superb singing but the operatic quality of her voice is out of place.

Robert MacDonald and Jeremy Sams' new (1994) translation is edgy, colloquial and as up-to-date as Prime Suspect. It is a pity that Babz Chula (Mrs. Peachum) and the members of the underworld appear to be in a different show on another continent.

Morris Panych has chosen to keep a few lines in many of the songs in German. Whether this is as a nod to Brecht, or a technique towards Brecht's "alienating effect", or something else, its effect on the anglophone listener is to undercut the 'in-your-face' English lyrics.

This show is miked. The words are crystal clear, the voices never strained. On the other hand, it is difficult to see who is singing, and the music becomes flat and mechanized.  Lack of involvement not intellectual detachment is what is achieved.

This production is full of good ideas, good singing  and good acting but it doesn't quite add up to a top notch production. 

The Threepenny Opera runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, March 20, 23, 25 and 27 at 8:00 o'clock.

2004, Elizabeth Paterson