“Tango Ballad” from Threepenny Opera
August 5, 2011 Leave a comment
For reasons I’m not too sure of I’m currently on a bit of a Kurt Weill and Bertol Brecht kick. Conveniently, this is far from a bad thing. More specifically, I’ve been big on the music from the duo’s 1928 masterpiece The Threepenny Opera. The story focuses on pimp, murder and general anti-hero Macheath, his crimes, his engagement to a young lady of London, his reunion with former lover and prostitute Jenny Diver and betrayal at the hands of his fiancee’s father. Despite having premiered in 1928, some modern audiences are sometimes shocked by the dark comedy and frankness of this work. The lyrics of the “Tango Ballad,” also known as the “Pimp’s Ballad” or “Ballad of Immoral Earnings,” are sexually frank about Macheath and Jenny’s time in “that cold brothel where we once lived.”
Unsurprisingly, Weill and Brecht’s brutal honesty has made their works popular amongst major figures in jazz, rock and the counterculture: “Mac The Knife” is now a jazz standard and has been covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Nick Cave, soul singer Nina Simone made “Pirate Jenny” one of her signature songs and both Tom Waits and the Pet Shop Boys have recorded versions of Threepenny‘s finale “What Keeps Man Kind Alive?”
In 2006, playwright and cult favorite actor Wallace Shawn adapted Threepenny for a new production at New York’s Roundabout Theater. This production, heavily influenced by rock and punk aesthetics, starred noted stage actor Alan Cumming as Macheath and pop singer Cyndi Lauper as Jenny. The Roundabout production was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Thankfully, someone recorded the performance of “Tango Ballad” at the 2006 Tonys and preserved it on Youtube. I’m just pleasantly surprised that CBS let a song like this air two years after the Super Bowl “nipplegate” incident.