Ballad Opera - The 20th Century

The 20th Century

The Threepenny Opera of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (1928) is a reworking of The Beggar's Opera, setting a similar story with the same characters, and containing much of the same satirical bite. On the other hand, it uses just one tune from the original – all the other music being specially composed, and thus omits one of the most distinctive features of the original ballad opera.

In a completely different vein, Hugh the Drover, an opera in two acts by Ralph Vaughan Williams first staged in 1924, is also sometimes referred to as a "ballad opera". It is plainly much closer to Shield's Rosina than to The Beggar's Opera.

In the twentieth century folk singers have produced musical plays with folk or folk-like songs called "ballad operas". Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and others recorded The Martins and the Coys in 1944, and Peter Bellamy and others recorded The Transports in 1977. The first of these is in some ways connected to the "pastoral" form of the ballad opera, and the latter to the satiric Beggar's Opera type, but in all they represent yet further reinterpretations of the term.

Ironically, it is in the musicals of Kander & Ebb —especially Chicago and Cabaret— that the kind of satire embodied in The Beggar's Opera and its immediate successors is probably best preserved, although here, as in Weill's version, the music is specially composed, unlike the first ballad operas of the 18th century.

Read more about this topic:  Ballad Opera

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