The Beggar’s Opera

in Daily Programme, Radio Riel Main

by Elrik Merlin on Wednesday, 16 April, 2014

Today on Radio Riel we present a programme of traditional dance music from Playford and other sources (including modern interpretations from ECD and Morris performers), plus two presentations of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), which features tunes popular in the 18th century (with revised lyrics) arranged by Johann Pepusch.

The Beggar’s Opera is a ‘ballad opera’ in three acts and is the only example of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera to remain popular today. Ballad operas were satiric musical plays that used some of the conventions of opera, but without recitative. The lyrics of the airs in the piece are set to popular broadsheet ballads, opera arias, church hymns and folk tunes of the time. Some are the most popular tunes by well‐known composers like Handel and Purcell, but many are folk and folk‐dance melodies from around Britain.

The Beggar’s Opera premiered at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 29 January 1728 and ran for 62 consecutive performances, the longest run in theatre history up to that time. The work satirised Italian opera, which had become popular in London, and stems from a suggestion by Jonathan Swift to create a work that featured the ordinary people of London instead of the kings and princes of Italian opera. The work also satirises Walpole and his corrupt British government of the time (Gay’s sequel, Polly, was banned by Walpole).

The ballad opera genre forms an obvious antecedent to the 19th century work of Gilbert & Sullivan, whose satirical operettas remain popular today. The genre can also be credited with setting the stage for the modern musical. And in 1928, Bertold Brecht wrote an adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera called The Threepenny Opera, including almost entirely new music by Kurt Weill. Its socialist critique of capitalist society echoed reverberations that ring on today.

Read more about The Beggar’s Opera in Wikipedia.

We will be playing the complete restored 1962 recording conducted by Max Goberman, at 11am and 7pm Pacific Time (19:00 and 03:00 in the UK).

The picture shows the painting based on The Beggar’s Opera, scene 5, by William Hogarth, in the Tate Britain.

Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin. If you are tuning in from Canada or the United States, please click here to hear the programme. Otherwise, click here to start your player, if your browser is configured to do so.



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