Libretto by Charles Hart after an original scenario by Jürgen Weber
- drmtcs,lyrics,Mz,lyrct,2T,drmtct,5Bar,bbar[C] + ch; 3(2pic).3(III:ca).3(III:bcl).2+cbn/4.0+3ctpt.3.1/timp.3perc/pf(cel,kbd,hmn).hp/str
- Dramatic Soprano, Lyric Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Lyric Tenor, Tenor, Tenor, Dramatic Tenor, Baritone, Baritone, Baritone, Baritone, Baritone, Bass Baritone/Contralto
- 1 hr 55 min
- Charles Hart and Jürgen R. Weber
Set across a single day in summer 1871, Marx in London follows the philosopher and economist as he is beset by his troubled wife, his denied illegitimate son, his overly curious daughter, and his notorious lack of capital. Knowing that he will never finish writing Das Kapital, Marx escapes to the British Library, where he has a vision that will eventually become a nightmare.
Written to mark Marx’s bicentenary, Jonathan Dove’s Marx in London features a libretto by Charles Hart, after an original scenario by Jürgen Weber, and was commissioned and premiered by Theater Bonn in December 2018.
Setting: London, August 1871, in and around the Marx family home at 41 Maitland Park Road over the course of 24 hours
Along with many German political exiles, Karl Marx and his family moved to London (in 1849) after his agitation in the press saw him banned from numerous European cities and countries. However, his life’s work of outlining a new worldwide economic and social system in the multi-volume Das Kapital (Capital ) has led to some precarious economic and social conditions of his own…
ACT I A Prussian spy keeps tabs on Karl Marx’s movements. Karl plays chess with his housekeeper, Helene, who counters both his moves and advances. Tussi – Karl’s daughter – warns that a suspicious man lurks outside.
The person Tussi has seen is not the spy but Freddy, a young man in search of answers about his parents, who abandoned him at birth. His only clue is an engraved napkin ring. Tussi confronts him but they are interrupted by the arrival of bailiffs.
Karl appeals to the ‘workers of the world’, redistributing his gin and cigars to buy them off. His ploy works until their foreman arrives insisting on cash – capital Karl has none of. The bailiffs confiscate the Marx family furniture leaving only a trunk and a chandelier.
Karl notices Freddy and Helene pretends the young man is the new ‘piano teacher’ before sending him away. Karl bemoans his inability to keep a household. He hides from Jenny, his wife, who is distraught at the sight of her emptied home. Karl absconds with a leather case he has furtively removed from the trunk and makes his way through the capital. Tussi and Freddy run into each other as the Marx family furniture trundles through the London streets on a cart. The two hop on and Tussi, sitting at the piano, flirts with her ‘piano teacher’.
Karl tries to hock the contents of the case at a Pawnbroker’s.
Jenny and Helene drown their sorrows in a bottle of gin. Friedrich Engels, Karl’s best friend, arrives and Jenny asks him for money to pay off Karl’s debts. Jenny says only one thing now remains to her – the von Westphalen family silverware – which she discovers has been removed from the trunk. Karl is on the run, the pawnbroker having called the police to arrest the scruffy immigrant whom he suspects has stolen the silverware.
Jenny, Helene, and Engels question the sacrifices they continually make for Karl. When Jenny retires Helene tells Engels about the young man with the napkin ring.
Tussi inspects Freddy’s bag. When she finds a gun, he grabs it back and flees. Tussi and the workmen give chase though the London streets.
Karl arrives at the Reading Room of the British Library but finds sitting difficult due to the painful carbuncles on his bottom. Eventually he nods off to memories of the 1848 revolutions and their egalitarian ideals. But he wakes with a start: his case and Jenny’s silverware have gone missing.
Tussi chases Freddy; Jenny, Helene, and Engels search for Karl; Karl follows a spy-like figure who seems to be carrying his missing case.
Outside the British Museum Karl glimpses the man with the case again and rushes after him through the streets of Bloomsbury.
Tussi catches up with Freddy, who explains that he is a gunsmith and was adopted. The napkin ring is his only clue as to the identity of his parents.
Karl accosts Franz, the man with the case, only to discover it contains a lot of cash. It is not his case; Jenny’s silverware is still missing.
Tussi asks Freddy to show her how to shoot his gun and boasts about her aspirations to go on the stage.
Karl and Engels meet at the Red Lion Public House in Soho, a communist hotspot of revolutionary debate. The crowd are waiting for the Italian guest speaker Giuseppe Melanzane. Franz arrives, revealing he is also a Prussian communist, and offers the cash in his case as a prize to the person who makes the best speech. Melanzane fails to impress with a platitudinous and plagiarised oration. Karl humiliates Melanzane and delivers a barnstorming speech on the evils of capitalism and the slogans of the new communist utopia he hopes will dawn. Karl wins the money and promptly orders drinks for everyone. Soon the money he won – and needed – is all but gone.
Jenny mourns the losses she has borne, and the losses yet to come. Tussi and Freddy confront Helene with the napkin ring. Helene confesses she is Freddy’s mother and gave him away to shield his father from scandal.
Karl staggers home drunk and propositions Helene again whilst Freddy and Tussi express their own feelings towards each other. Suddenly all the Marx family’s belongings reappear. Engels has paid off Karl’s debts. The celebrations are cut short by the entrance of Jenny. Helene and Tussi hide Freddy inside the trunk. Jenny orders Karl to return her silverware just as the police arrive with the Pawnbroker to arrest Karl for its theft. Karl hides in a cupboard and the Chief Inspector mistakes Franz for ‘Mr Mark’. Jenny explains the silverware is Karl’s, by marriage.
The Spy reappears with the missing case. He reveals where Karl is hiding, admitting that his search for compromising evidence has come to naught. The police are about to leave when Melanzane bursts in – with explosives. Before he can detonate them Freddy leaps from the trunk and shoots at him. The shot is a spectacular miss; ricocheting around the room before hitting the chandelier, which falls on top of Melanzane. The police drag him away.
Karl thanks Freddy for saving his life. Engels and Helene whisk Tussi and Freddy aside to disclose the identity of Freddy’s father. Karl and Jenny reconcile.
The Marx family enjoys a Sunday afternoon picnic on Hampstead Heath. Karl is lost in thoughts of how much work remains to see his communist utopia realised but is encouraged by Engels to… ‘enjoy the view’.
Synopsis by Stephen Barlow, originally published in the programme for the UK premiere production of Marx in London
- UK premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Marx in London!
- 8th February 2024
- Jonathan Dove's comic Opera 'Marx in London!' recieves its UK premiere at Scottish Opera