In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Song about A Serial Killer Hits Top of the Charts: "Mack the Knife"

Mar 16, 2018 11:36:16 AM
By John Conklin

Although a last-minute addition to the original production in 1928, “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” has gone on to become its biggest hit. Someone has claimed it as the greatest show number ever--well, perhaps...its afterlife and reverberations have indeed been extraordinary. We sample some items here. But first, let’s put it in a proper cultural context:


And here in a “ur-text” version sung by Herr Brecht himself:


Its most successful commercial outing was a 1959 version by Bobby Darin (#1 on Billboard’s Top 100, Grammy record of the year, etc.). Here it is (actually) sung by Kevin Spacey (!) in a 2004 bio-pic about Darrin…appropriately enough, I suppose, a song about a predatory scumbag sung by an alleged predatory scumbag:


Sung by opera singers (in passable German):


Sung by pop performers (in horrible German). Sting played Macheath on Broadway in was a notable flop.


Sung in French: “La Complainte de Mackie” (kind of loses its edge, yes?), a 1931 recording by Damia:


Sung famously by Louis Armstrong:


In jazz clubs:


With a Latin beat:


And…Back on the street (after all, it started as a street singer’s ballad):



In an upcoming blog post, we look and listen to more takes on this seemingly irresistible tune…versions eccentric, bizarre and just plain crazy!


John Conklin is the Boston Lyric Opera Artistic Advisor. He has designed sets on and off Broadway, at the Kennedy Center, and for opera companies around the world, including The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, Bastille Opera in Paris, The Royal Opera and the opera houses of Munich, Amsterdam, and Bologna, among others. Locally, his work has been seen in Boston Lyric Opera’s recent productions of The Rake’s Progress (2017), The Marriage of Figaro (2017), The Merry Widow (2016), Werther (2016), La Bohème (2015), and I Puritani (2014), as well as at the American Repertory Theater and Boston Ballet. Additionally, Mr. Conklin develops lecture series and community events for BLO that enrich the audience experience and strengthen the presence of opera in Boston’s arts community. He is on the faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and was a recipient of the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors.


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Topics: 2017/18 Season, #ThreepennyBLO, Brecht, Weill

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