Socialist Worker

Kurt Weill, a composer who made opera democratic

As Opera North revives the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus, Sabby Sagall examines the life of a great radical composer

Issue No. 1942

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) stood squarely in the tradition of “democratic” opera — the kind that looks at the lives of ordinary people and enlists our sympathy for those who are both victims of and fighters against injustice.

From 1927-33 he worked in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, the German socialist playwright and poet who revolutionised modern theatre, forming with him one of the great modern creative partnerships.

Together they developed the view that art had at all times to preserve contact with the masses. It should derive ideas and inspiration from their struggles and sacrifices, and make the content, music and language of a work accessible at all times. Opera had to be both educational and enjoyable.

Their most famous and enduringly popular work was the The Threepenny Opera (1928), which contains the unforgettable song “Mack the Knife”. Set in the underworld, its dual theme is the way capitalist morality is reflected in crime and how, for the poor, morality is a luxury they cannot afford.

Their next work was The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929), about a mythical city dominated by the pursuit of male pleasures in which everything has a price and the worst crime is poverty.

Shortly after the Nazis took power in 1933, Weill, a leftist and a Jew, fled Germany, settling in New York where he and Brecht wrote the final fruit of their collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins. After the war, Weill adopted the format of the Broadway musical but died in 1950, at the young age of 50.

One Touch of Venus is on tour. For dates and venues go to: or phone 0113 243 9999

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Sat 12 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1942
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