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Money & corruption: ‘Threepenny’ a satire of capitalism and traditional opera

Kate Clarke is having a busy and productive week.

Clarke, an assistant professor of theater, acting and voice at the University of New Mexico, is at the helm of the department of theater and dance’s latest production, “The Threepenny Opera,” which opens tonight and runs through Nov. 19.

“I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to be directing this piece,” she says. “I was fortunate to be in it when I was a student, and it changed my life.”

The play tells the musical tale of London’s most notorious criminal, Macheath or Mack the Knife. Jeremiah Peachum is the boss of London’s beggars and demands a cut of all they earn. He is furious when he learns London’s most notorious criminal, Macheath, has seduced his daughter, Polly, and through bribery and blackmail Macheath is sentenced to hang.

Set in a society obsessed with money, filled with corruption, where evil runs rampant, and all seem immune to the sufferings of the poor, it is a satire of both traditional opera and the capitalistic Weimar Republic.

A narrator introduces the work as “an opera for beggars. Conceived with magnificence such as only beggars could imagine, and an economy such as only beggars could afford.”

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht adapted “The Threepenny Opera” from Elisabeth Hauptman’s German translation of John Gay’s “The Beggars Opera.”

This production uses and English translation of the dialog by Robert MacDonald with lyrics by Jeremy Sams.

It has a long history and was a wild hit when it opened in Berlin in 1928.

“The central theme of this piece is that corruption doesn’t die,” she says. “At the center of the piece, we have Mack the Knife, who is a charming man. And he’s buying people off. We’re really focusing, on this production, on the way women are used by him and others. Everything is still very relevant in today’s world.”

Clarke is working with a cast of 18, and many of the students play more than one role.

She’s also working with a student costume designer and a student stage designer.

“This is great experience for all of the students,” she says. “It’s a big production and there are a lot of moving pieces. It’s almost opening night, and we’ve got some things to iron out before then. We’ll be rehearsing up to the day we open.”

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