The Beggar’s Opera

 In Classics


For today’s review: I’m taking it back … really back…. to 1728. John Gay wrote this opera during the Augustan period and it was a huge success! So- I thought I’d give it a go!

I have only seen a few operas in my life but The Beggar’s Opera is not one that I would recognize in an opera. Most operas deal with grand events such as Aida deals with royalty. I was surprised that this deals with the common man and common situations. I found it interesting that the characters have low class jobs. Mr. Peachum is described as being a fence and thief-catcher. These both deal with people that do illegal things to make money. Then, MacHeath is described as a highwayman, which is someone that steals from people on horseback. Both characters are thieves and bad men. This was surprising to me that we are supposed to care for these characters although they are morally corrupt. It was a little comical to me that the Peachum’s think that Polly’s marriage to MacHeath might have been a good match if they can kill him for his money. It reminded me of parents that dislike their daughter’s boyfriends and secretly want to get rid of them. Although, I don’t think most would consider killing him!

I thought it was strange that MacHeath’s idea of getting away was going to a saloon. That is such a strange thing to do. Why didn’t he get out-of-town or go somewhere far away? Instead he wants to go to a saloon and hang out with women that are the lowest class of women possible. It doesn’t make sense. It serves him right that some of the women are in cahoots with Peachum. I liked the situation with Lucy, Polly, and MacHeath. It reminds me of a soap opera where the ex-girlfriend tries to seduce a married man but the wife catches everything that is going on. It cracks me up how soap opera writers probably get some of their material from The Beggar’s Opera. I thought it was really sad when MacHeath pretended that Polly was crazy so he could get out of prison. I guess if you are stuck in jail and there is a way out, one might do anything to get out. But, I felt bad for Polly. When Polly was about to be poisoned by Lucy, I felt the scene was too melodramatic. How ironic is it that Polly barely escaped from being poisoned then both of the fathers arrive to arrest MacHeath? Its unlikely, that’s for sure. The ending was definitely not expected. I think it is funny that the beggar narrator tells us that the audience has not come to see a tragedy. It is a moment when, as the audience, we realize we are watching a play because the play just recognized us as something separate. The most logical thing to happen would be for macheath to be hanged because that is what the play was setting us up for all along. However, it ends in a traditional “comedy” fashion where everything must end with happiness and marriage or dance. In this case, MacHeath tells Polly that they are married still. (Which is what the audience would want. Everyone would be so mad if he stayed with Lucy) And then they all dance with celebration that MacHeath is saved. I thought it was an interesting story to read.

I think that watching it live would be a much better experience because we would get to see how exactly everything works out. Better yet, seeing an audience of the opening night would be more interesting. Because, I assume that most operas were grand events and I wonder if the audience would be shocked at the low-class status of all the characters or would they be intrigued by the new idea?

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