cover image The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink

The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink

Pamela Katz. Doubleday/Talese, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-385-53491-8

The culture of Weimar Germany is at its most provocative and profound in this scintillating portrait of its leading theatrical luminaries. Novelist and film maker Katz explores the partnership, starting in 1927, of Marxist playwright and enfant terrible Bertholt Brecht and German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill; their 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera, with its well-known song “Mack the Knife,” gained fame for its tuneful satire of the sharklike soullessness of bourgeois society. She adds vibrant sketches of their female supporting cast: the singer Lotte Lenya, Weill’s perennially unfaithful wife and muse; Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel, an accomplished actress who managed Brecht’s life and tolerated his mistresses; and Brecht’s collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann, who wrote a good chunk of his oeuvre, mostly without credit or pay, and also shared his bed. Katz gives an uproarious view of the ferment of interwar Berlin’s theatrical avant-garde, with Brecht’s tantrums, power plays, preening demands, and ideological conceits. But she also takes seriously the artistic and political ideas that drove Brecht and Weill to their innovations (and eventually estranged them). The result is a thoughtful, entertaining recreation of a watershed moment in 20th-century theater. Photos. (Jan.)