The oldest opera recorded in this archive is Frank McGuiness’ translation and adaptation of The Three Penny Opera, which Patrick Mason and Vaněk produced in 1991. Brecht and Weill’s play is set in Victorian London and follows the anti-hero Mcheath or ‘Mack the Knife’ (Paul Raynor) as he marries Polly Peachum (Anna Healy) against her father’s will. Mr Peachum (Jim Bartley), a capitalist villain who controls the beggars in London, conspires to have Macheath arrested and then executed. The finale takes an unexpected and absurdist turn and Macheath is pardoned and granted a title by the Queen. The play has a strong political message and argues that the petty crimes of a poor criminal do not compare to the true crimes of the capitalist bourgeois that extorts him. Joe Vaněk’s purposefully rundown set mirrors the destitute conditions of the play’s characters. He, moreover, updates the play from Victorian times to the jazz age, which so inspired Brecht’s text. Photographs of the costume design and set can be found in the archive.
In 2001, Vaněk collaborated with Patrick Mason on a production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera adaptation of The Silver Tassie. O’Casey’s play was originally rejected by the Abbey for supposedly misunderstanding and misrepresenting the experience of warfare. This rejection is said to have caused a rift between O’Casey and Ireland. As such, The Silver Tassie has a reputation of being controversial. The story follows Harry (Sam McElroy), a star football player, on his journey to the battlefront during WW1. Barely surviving the horrors of the trenches, Harry returns to Ireland a broken man and reflects on the bright future that has been stolen from him. The second act, which takes place at the battlefront, is notoriously difficult to stage due to its break with the play’s realism and a more expressionist approach. According to Rodney Milnes in the Times, however, this was the “opera’s greatest strength.” Mason achieved this by staging most of the action downstage, which was “encouraged” and facilitated by Vaněk’s “grey box” set design “enlivened with the red of blood and poppies.” This is particularly interesting, because the usage of poppies had been so controversial and criticised by audiences of Mason’s 1990 production of O’Casey’s play. Vaněk’s costumes for the 2001 production were awarded with the Irish Times Theatre award, while his scenery was nominated for Best Set Design. Photographs of the production as well as the theatre box model can be found in the archive.