Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

by Bertolt Brecht

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Characters Discussed

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Jimmy Gallagher

Jimmy Gallagher, also known in different versions of the opera as Jim Mahoney or Paul Ackermann, a lumberjack from Alaska. He is a hedonist who entangles himself in the nets of Mahagonny, a city in which one can buy all pleasures. During the approach of a hurricane that threatens to destroy Mahagonny, Jimmy proclaims his new principle, that henceforth everything is permitted. After the city has been saved miraculously, and as the people of Mahagonny continue to indulge in excessive eating, lovemaking, fighting, and drinking, to the point at which some people begin to die, Jimmy is arrested and tried in an ad hoc court. Although he is acquitted of most of the charges, he is sentenced to death for what is considered the capital offense of Mahagonny: to be without money.

Ladybird Begpick

Ladybird Begpick, known in different versions as Leocadia Begbick or Leokadia Begpick, a fugitive from justice who becomes the cofounder of Mahagonny in a desolate place on the road to Alaska. Like her namesake in another of Bertolt Brecht’s plays (Man Equals Man, 1926), Begpick uses men for her profit by catering to their pleasures. In Mahagonny, she runs the As-You-Like-It Tavern (Hotel Rich Man in the more literal translation from German) and also performs the function of judge in the trial scene.

Jenny

Jenny, known in different versions as Jenny Jones or Jenny Smith, a prostitute. She lures men on their way back from Alaska into Begpick’s tavern and becomes Jimmy’s lover. She sings the most lyrical passages of the opera, including the “Alabama Song,” “Let Me Tell You What My Mother Called Me,” and (together with Jimmy) the love duet “See there two cranes veer by one with another.” Jenny abandons Jimmy in his critical situation and refuses to loan him money according to his (and her own) principle, “[I]f someone must kick, why, that’s my part.”

Trinity Moses

Trinity Moses and

Fatty the Booky

Fatty the Booky (who is known in a different version as Willy the Booky), both social outcasts who are on the run from justice and who help Begpick with the founding of the city of Mahagonny. Like Begpick, they survive both the pleasures and the accusations of Mahagonny. In the trial scene, Fatty is the defense attorney and Moses the prosecutor. At the end of the opera, they proclaim, together with Begpick, a new price hike and the fight of everyone against everyone as the most extreme form of capitalism.

John Jacob (Jake) Smith

John Jacob (Jake) Smith, known in different versions as Jack O’Brian or Jakob Schmidt,

Alaskawolf Joe

Alaskawolf Joe, known in a different version as Joseph Lettner, and

Bookkeeping Billy

Bookkeeping Billy, known in a different version as Heinrich Merg, all former lumberjacks who worked with Jimmy in Alaska but who refuse to help him out of his financial debt in Mahagonny. Jake dies of overeating, and Joe is killed by Trinity Moses in a boxing match. Bill takes over Jenny from Jimmy when the latter is executed in the electric chair (or hanged, in another version).

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