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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Die Moritat von Mackie Messer

You've undoubtedly heard the Bobby Darin standard, Mack the Knife, any number of times:

The song was originally composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, for their Threepenny Opera. In the opera, Mackie Messer was evil, a robber, rapist, murderer, and arsonist. In Darin's version, the lyrics don't quite make sense, and you just get the vague impression that Mack is a badass who is popular with the ladies.

Lotte Lenya is best known to Americans as the evil Rosa Klebb in From Russian With Love. (Klebb was the woman who kicked at Sean Connery/James Bond with those shoes with the poisoned blades coming out of them.) Lenya was also Kurt Weil's widow, and starred in both the 1928 German and 1954 Broadway productions of the Threepenny Opera. Here is her version of the song, originally titled Die Moritat von Mackie Messer:

Lenya's is a much more stripped down version, with a sadder undertone. It features the barrel organ more prominently in the background, as Weil had intended. Lenya sings it in the original German; it's fashionable to say that German is a harsh, guttural language, but I find it quite appealing.

Servio Tulio looks like a schoolteacher, but he seems to be telling the story well, accompanied by just a piano:

Finally, a sexed up 1950's or 60's Euro-video version featuring Broadway-style dancers in the background:

What all these versions have in common is that they make you want to run out and get a switchblade.

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