PE0292. THE BEGGAR's OPERA (John Gay; A Revised Version by Frederic Austin), recorded 1920, w. Lyric Theatre Ensemble, Hammersmith; Frederic Austin, Frederick Ranalow, Sylvia Nelis, Kathleen Hilliard, Nellie Walker, Frederic Austin, Alfred Heather, Violet Marquesita, etc. (1,463 performances); POLLY (John Gay's sequel, adapted by Clifford Bax), recorded 1922, w.Kingsway Theatre Ensemble; Lillian Davies, Stanley Vilven, Winifred Hare, Lovat Crossley, Pitt Chatham, Percy Parsons, Adrienne Brune, etc. (England) 2-Palaeophonics 153/54 , w.Elaborate 'The Play' 36pp. Brochure replete with numerous photos of the Lyric Theatre & Kingsway Theatre productions & biographies. Excellently transferred from the legendary Acoustic 78rpm English HMV rarities. For this production Dominic Combe had access to fabulous archival material and superb original 78s with which to work!
“John Gay’s great comic masterpiece is generally agreed to be the first ever musical. Written in 1728, THE BEGGAR’S OPERA is a savagely funny satire on marriage, money and morals - as relevant and biting today as it was when first written. In a play within a play, where beggars and thieves create a world of love, lust, violence, deceit, greed and a little more love, [we see] a clear context for Gay’s ruthless characters driving the convoluted plot at a helter-skelter pace. Peachum, a purveyor of stolen goods, and his rapacious wife, are horrified to find that their only child, Polly, has fallen in love with and worse still, married Captain Macheath, Captain Macheath, the famous highwayman. Peachum cannot bear the thought that Macheath should get control of Polly’s money and become the heir to his own fortune, so he plots to have Macheath captured and hanged. Act One ends with Macheath emerging from his hiding place (in Polly’s bed) and the lovers swearing eternal fidelity to each other as Macheath flies to safety. Macheath is arrested and imprisoned by the corrupt jailer, Lockit, whose daughter Lucy turns out to be another of Macheath’s lovers, now heavily pregnant with his child. Polly’s prison visit to her husband causes an embarrassing and ludicrous collision between the two women who fight viciously for Macheath’s affection. Polly is dragged away by her father and Lucy helps Macheath escape. Act Two closes with both women grieving for their departed man. Act Three sees Macheath re-arrested, and as the story enters into ever more dark and political territory Gay uses Macheath’s plight to talk about injustice and poverty wherever and whenever it occurs. After a heartbreaking trio as Macheath and his two wives - and then a few more - bid farewell, Macheath is hanged. There follows a stunning and hilarious coup de theatre, as the public objects to the tragic turn of events. Macheath’s hanging is ‘reversed’, and the company of beggars improvise a joyful and shambolic happy ending.”
- DRAMATISTS PLAY SERVICE
"What is it about THE BEGGAR's OPERA that so transported me, as it has countless others? Written by John Gay in 1728, the show is widely credited as the first musical - and one that pre-empted by about 300 years the current vogue for jukebox productions, with stories shoehorned in around hit songs. Gay's musical arranger, Johann Christoph Pepusch, took some of the most popular songs of the day and worked them into a satirical tale set among London's seething thieves, pimps and prostitutes. Two centuries later, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill adapted the show into their THREE PENNY OPERA.
Like many of the best musicals and operas, the plot is faintly preposterous. Peachum, a fence and gangmaster, discovers that his daughter, Polly, has married the highwayman Macheath, and conspires with his wife to have him hanged so that they can pocket his money. Macheath is carted off to Newgate prison, where Lucy Lockit reproaches Macheath for calling off their engagement, and helps him to escape. Lucy tries to poison Polly, but then they make up and plead together at the gallows for Macheath's life to be spared."
- Laura Barnett, THE GUARDIAN, 28 April, 2014
"Indeed, THE BEGGAR's OPERA came about at least partly, if not wholly, as a satiric response to the then ruling popularity of the elaborate foreign entertainment known as Italian opera, the most famous proponent of which being Georg Frederich Handel. In Gay’s work, quite a hit in its time, the lower class of England takes the stage, speaking in elevated language about the seedy goings-on in their lives, and occasionally breaking out into song, primarily of a simple, folk-based nature. Perhaps the best way to get to know the essence of this work is to turn to the 20th century adaptation by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, THREE PENNY OPERA."
- Chris Mullins, OPERA NEWS, 4 Oct., 2009
“POLLY is a sequel - the continuation of the cautionary tale of Polly Peachum and Captain Macheath that, as the saying went, made the theater manager Rich gay, and Gay rich, in THE BEGGAR'S OPERA. POLLY was written a year after THE BEGGAR'S OPERA, and published in 1729. However, Sir Robert Walpole, who rightfully thought he had been satirized in the earlier piece, apparently took his revenge in suppressing POLLY and it was not produced until 1777, 45 years after Gay's death. It was revived in the early nineteentwenties in London in a version by Clifford Bax and Frederick Austin after the great success of THE BEGGAR'S OPERA.
To the West Indies, the loyal Polly Peachum arrives in search of her former husband. (Or was, he her husband? - the earlier work left the matter in question.) She is robbed in transit, and is sold as a whore by the wicked Diana Trapes, to Mr. Ducat. However, during an uprising Mrs. Ducat helps her escape, and she finds herself involved in a war between the noble Indians and the ignoble Europeans, including the pirates. Something is always happening - and at last Macheath is executed.
It is gentle, tongue in cheek stuff. It is interesting perhaps to note that the European regard for ‘the noble savage’, who was free from hypocrisy, avarice and the vices of civilization, predated Jean Jacques Rousseau, with whom the concept is familiarly associated. It is to be found in POLLY for all to note and laugh at. There is a considerable amount of feminist propaganda tucked away in the operetta for that matter - but today its satifical bite must be admitted to lack the force of teeth. It is of satirical nuzzle.”
- Clive Barnes, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 May, 1975
“If you are interested in what original audiences of early 20th century English operetta and musical comedy heard, there is a great source for such recordings – the record label Paleophonics. Dominic Combe prepares CDs for them from his huge collection of shellacs and a few cylinders.
I came across these somewhat hard-to-find CDs on the website of the mail-order company NORBECK, PETERS AND FORD, (norpete.com) which is specialized in historical performances from the beginning of recorded sound all the way through to the 1960s.
There are now over fifty Paleophonics CDs, and more are being prepared or scheduled for future release. Each CD comes with a lavishly illustrated program booklet with reviews, information about the shows and fantastic publicity photographs, and artwork from the original London productions, in the form of reproductions of the magazine PLAY PICTORIAL.”
- Thomas Krebs, OPERETTA RESEARCH CENTER - PALEOPHONICS - A JOURNEY TO THE DAWN OF RECORDED SOUND IN MUSICAL COMEDY, 1 July, 2020