The Classical Music Minute

The Beggar's Opera: The Anti-Opera

October 31, 2022 Steven Hobé, Composer & Host Season 1 Episode 83
The Classical Music Minute
The Beggar's Opera: The Anti-Opera
Show Notes Transcript

John Gay wrote The Beggar's Opera as an anti-opera rather than an opera, lampooning the Italian opera style and the English public's fascination with it.  Take a minute to get the scoop!

Listen to: The Beggar's Opera ℅ YouTube

Fun Facts
Fact 1
Lavinia Fenton, the first Polly Peachum, became an overnight success. Her pictures were in great demand, verses were written to her and books published about her. After appearing in several comedies, and then in numerous repetitions of The Beggar's Opera, she ran away with her married lover, Charles Powlett, 3rd Duke of Bolton.

Fact 2
Bertolt Brecht adapted the work into Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) in 1928, sticking closely to the original plot and characters but with a new libretto, and mostly new music by Kurt Weill.

About Steven, Host
Steven is a Canadian composer living in Toronto. He creates a range of works, with an emphasis on the short-form genre—his muse being to offer the listener both the darker and more satiric shades of human existence. If you're interested, please check out his website for more. Member of the Canadian League Of Composers.

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The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written by John Gay in 1728. 
The work satirized Italian opera, which had become popular in London at the time. According to The New York Times: "Gay wrote the work more as an anti-opera than an opera, one of its attractions to its 18th-century London public being its lampooning of the Italian opera style."
Instead of the grand music and themes of opera, the work uses familiar tunes and characters that were ordinary people. Some of the songs were even by opera composers like Handel. The audience could hum along with the music and identify with the characters. The story addresses politics, poverty, and injustice, focusing on the theme of corruption at all levels of society.
The Beggar's Opera ran for 62 consecutive performances, the second-longest run in theatre history up to that time. The work became Gay's greatest success and dubbed, "the most popular play of the eighteenth century".