Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill
As she demonstrated in London’s Chicago cast, Ute Lemper is a consummate musical star with an engaging line in gamey sensuality à la Marlene Dietrich; but her full, sour-sweet voice and mordant expressiveness lend themselves to deeper things.
The Weill recital, filmed at the magnificently decrepit Les Bouffes du Nord in Paris, covers similar ground to her Decca CDs, spanning the composer’s career from Brecht and Berlin to his disastrous Paris sojourn and final apotheosis in the America he had so often traduced. It’s here, though, in his Broadway hits – especially One Touch of Venus – that she is most successful.
Despite the peeling-plaster ambience, this is a sophisticated little staging, keenly directed and lit; and for all the rolled r’s and vibrant bitterness she brings to the Brecht songs, they seem just too slick and smooth, far removed from Lotte Lenya’s agitprop-laden rasp. This might be fair enough, recalling the Brecht who had his ‘proletarian’ clothes expensively tailored, but ‘Moritat von Mackie Messer’ especially is stylised to the point of emasculation.
The Michael Nyman recital is filmed with added video imagery – by Volker Schlöndorff, no less. The Mozartian Letter and a Riddle is unexciting, but Nyman’s free-wheeling blend of minimalism, classical and jazz idiom suits Rimbaud’s off-the-wall imagery in L’Orgie Parisienne, as does Lemper’s cheerfully louche delivery (despite variable French). By contrast, she delivers his grim settings of Celan’s Holocaust poems with the searing, gritty power that the Brecht songs lacked. She makes it amply clear she’s to be taken seriously – but without forgetting her fun value, either.