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John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” 1728–2004: Adaptations and Re-Writings (review)
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Reviewed by
John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” 1728–2004: Adaptations and Re-Writings, ed. Uwe Böker, Ines Detmers, and Anna-Christina Giovanopoulos. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2006. Pp. 347. €70.

Though this collection’s title and back-cover blurb are written in English, seven of the twelve essays (occupying 234 out of 329 pages of text) are in German. After a useful introduction and “Calendar of Important Adaptations and Re-Writings (1920–2004),” readers must wait until page 169 for the subjects promised by the title. First instead comes a long, thoroughly informed introduction to The Beggar’s Opera by Mr. Böker that will be useful to German students, though it contains what is familiar; it is curious that someone so widely read in English materials has proofread the English in his copy so badly (“Robert Foltenflik,” “Farquhar’s The Recruiting (1706),” “’Twas when the seas were raoring,” “When on my harmer’s breast reposed”).

There follows an engaging essay by Ian Gallagher, based on Old Bailey records, examining how well Gay’s criminal world represents historical actuality; a reprinted discussion of Polly by Horst Höhne (1996); and an essay on Walpole and Wild, by Anna-Christina Giovanopoulos, more concerned with literary appearances over the years of Wild and John Sheppard than with the Opera, Peachum, or Macheath. Of the “Adaptations and Re-Writings,” The Bow-Street Opera (anon., 1773), Wole Soyinka’s Opera Wonyosi, and Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval are treated in essays in English, and Die Dreigroschenoper, Václav Havel’s Zebrácká opera, Chico Buarque de Hollansas’sÓpera do Malandro and Dario Fo’s L’opera dello sghignazzo in German.

Mr. Gallagher does well to remind us of the Opera’s penumbral influence, as a “progenitor” of singspiel and other musical theater, and of literary and theatrical works about the criminal world: “There is much of Peachum in Fagin, Don Corleone, and Tony Soprano.” This collection demonstrates that the influence of the Opera still operates directly, too, when satirists come to address political corruption, with a peculiar ability to manifest itself openly in their new works, whatever their language, wherever their culture. With Europe, Africa, and South America represented above, John Latouche’s and Duke Ellington’s The Beggar’s Holiday and Teen Patishyacha Tamasha show Gay’s piece [End Page 75] colonizing every continent in the populated world.

The essays are listed in Contents, p. 174.

Yvonne Noble
Canterbury, Kent
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