Press : Ute Lemper: The Time Traveller

By: Andrew Kay
Date: April 26, 2024

To witness the brilliance of perhaps the greatest living chanteuse in the world in the intimate surroundings of The Old Market in Hove will remain one of my most cherished experiences of all time. First aware of her work back in my early twenties when I was fascinated by the arts of the Weimar Republic and in particular Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, I came across her voice on CDs. Little did I know that her early recordings of those songs would spark wider public interest in them, but I was soon to find out far more about how those recordings and her career.

The Time Traveller is far more than a simple concert, it is a theatrical journey, Lemper’s life in both theatre and in song, and it is a lavish tale told with passion and with skill. Her early life, her home life, her student days and her travels.Travel is the key that the evening is sung in, looking down, with some disdain, from her seat in economy, at the waves in the ocean below and comparing them to the wrinkles on the back of her hands, she is constantly on the move, from ancient Europe to new Europe and modern Europe before finally returning to her adopted Manhattan home.

The journey take in her time in Paris playing Peter Pan and the joy of flying on stage, then Sally Bowles in Cabaret, a role she does not dwell on or sing more than a few bars of. Then on to being cast as Velma Kelly in Kander and Ebb’s brilliant Chicago. Here she does pause and sing, and tells how the rigours of Bob Fosse’s choreography have impacted on her physical well-being. Lemper can deliver humour with a wry smile and do it well.

There’s a fabulous section devoted to Weill and Brecht and to my total joy a long passage from Die Dreigroschenoper, where she slides from English to guttural German with great dramatic effect. And drama is the second key in which she delivers the evening, she is without doubt a great actress.

A passage dedicated to a previous show, Rendezvous With Marlene, is both fascinating and hilarious, a conversation, three hours by telephone with Dietrich is recounted, in short, and to great effect. And with equal openness she talks of her failed relationship with her mother and about her own attitude to motherhood and her much loved family.

She is also a woman fired by passion and politics, stories of feeling isolated while living in West Berlin and of course her work in creating songs from the poetry of concentration camp victims and survivors. The songs she delivers from her Songs For Eternity project are deeply moving but equally so are her more contemporary compositions from her new album. And in researching her life and work there are few composers she has not worked with or sung, it is a catalogue so catholic in it’s breadth that it is hard to imaging how she has fitted it all in, but she has, clearly a very dedicated performer.

So finally on to the voice, yes a long time in coming but so much more to this woman than simply song. The voice is extraordinary, the range vast, the tone even wider, slipping with ease from gentle and soothing, sweet even, to rasping and filled with anger and perhaps venom. There is abundant evidence of the classical but it is interlaced with jazz. Few singers can really deliver that scat phenomenon, but Ute scatters the stage with notes, soaring riffs and scales, blasts of horns, searing trills, it’s a universe of sound but one that never ever loses touch with the original melody, the heart of a song.

Lemper is accompanied throughout by the brilliant pianist Vana Gierig and bassist Giuseppe Bassi who not only deliver the songs but delicately colour the narrative.

I was lucky enough to see her play Velma Kelly in the West End, but luckier still to have now seen and heard the true expanse of this sensational woman’s talent.

Andrew Kay

The Old Market
26 April

Rating: ★★★★★

Click here to read the review on The Latest.