The success of Marc Blitzstein's adaptation of The Threepenny Opera as an off-Broadway musical starting in 1954 resurrected the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht work, which had created a sensation in Europe in the late '20s and early '30s before being banned by the Nazis. After World War II, it had seemed like an artifact of the long-ago era of the Weimar Republic. But Blitzstein, enlisting Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, gave it a new life. As a result, Columbia Records became interested in creating a full-length recording of the score in German, something that had never been done before (though there had been an abridged 1930 recording with members of the original cast issued on four 78s). Lenya, credited with supervising the production, was dispatched to Germany, and a cast was assembled that recorded this album between January 11 and 15, 1958. It was originally released as a two-LP box set later that year, 30 years after the original production. The album does a service by compiling what is claimed to be a "complete" version of The Threepenny Opera (or Die Dreigroschenoper) in the original language). "Die Ballade von der Sexuellen Hörgkeit" (The Ballad of Sexual Dependency), which was omitted from the published score, is given its first German-language recording; "Kampf Um Das Eigentum" (Fight About the Property), which was cut from the score before the 1928 German premiere, is given its first recording; and there are spoken introductions to the songs by the street singer (Wolfgang Neuss). (In its original release, the album came with a 38-page LP-size booklet that featured three scholarly essays, a synopsis, and a libretto with English translation by Guy Stern. In the 1982 reissue, there was a single essay by Michel Pérez, and the libretto was presented in German, English, and French.) Admirable as all that is, the recording itself is not all that impressive, if only because the cast often seems listless and not up to the vocal demands of the score. Lenya herself is the exception, giving characteristically distinctive treatment to "Seeräuber-Jenny Oder Träume Eines Küchenmädchens" (Pirate-Jenny or Dreams of a Kitchen Maid) and joining Erich Schellow, as Macheath, on "Zuhälterballade" (The Procurer's Ballad). The introductions tend to slow down and formalize things, which contributes to one's sense of this as a museum piece, exactly what Blitzstein rescued it from becoming (though they also emphasize Brecht's deliberate sense of artificiality). Yet it took another 30 years, until the 1988 German studio cast album, for an improved version of The Threepenny Opera to appear in the original language.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann