Articles and news related to the Last Tango program

Photo by Paula Lobo

Publication: Operawire
Date: January 13, 2020
By Jennifer Pyron

The MetLiveArts Series Concert 2019-20 Review: Ute Lemper: Weimar Holiday
A Unique Talent Delivers A Potent Human Experience Through Music

The MetLiveArts program featured “Ute Lemper: Weimar Holiday” at The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium as part of a special Holiday series.

Lemper performed story-telling music by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weil, Friedrich Hollaender, Mischa Spoliansky, Marcellus Schiffer, Shmerke Kaczerginski and Alexander Tamir. The evening highlighted an enlightening and progressive time in Germany’s music history which cultivated the awareness of creative works by exiled Jewish composers. German-born artist Lemper provocatively narrated throughout her performance and captivated listeners with her intoxicating voice.

With an eclectic career featuring an inventive panoply of on-stage performances, film work and multiple recordings, one might refer to Lemper as one of the most influential Berlin Kabarett artist’s of our time. Her ability to express and articulate extraordinary creativity through a history-based musical presentation was profound.

Audience members could not take their eyes off Lemper as they were immersed in her spontaneous poetic art performance and personal stories relating to all historical events. One might best understand Lemper’s affinity with Weimar’s artistic evolution as a reflection of her own internal dialogue as an outspoken expatriate.

Lemper grew up during a politically tumultuous era and discovered the power of music to be her greatest guide. She continued to develop as an artist that specialized in cabaret. However Lemper’s originality is what set her apart from others and carved out her own successful career.

Taking the Reins

In “Weimar Holiday” Lemper took the reins of an interesting series of songs that lead the audience through darkness and into the light. Opening songs included “Liar Liar” by Hollaender, “Streets of Berlin” by Philip Glass and “It’s All a Swindle” (Alles Schwindel) by Spoliansky and Schiffer.

One might have felt like they were listening to a dear friend tell a personal story when enjoying Lemper’s narrative dialogue during this opening. Her voice encapsulated freedom of expression and a fervent drive to deliver entertainment. She was connected to each phrase that she performed like a magician conjuring spirits to reveal secrets of the past.

Hollaender’s “Liar Liar” was a dramatic start to the evening as Lemper dove head first into a passionate “Le Chat Noir”-inspired atmosphere. Her beautiful red gown was hidden beneath a sheer black dress that she zipped up and down as the moody lineup transpired.

“Streets of Berlin” by Glass was a sultry and smooth transition that Lemper utilized to sink deeper into the transcending and nostalgic undertones of Berlin Kabarett. She also had a red boa that laid gently on the back of a chair she used as a prop to emphasize an especially satirical moment. Lemper was smart with her space on stage and drew in the audience’s eye with each song and story.

Spoliansky and Schiffer’s “It’s All a Swindle” was upbeat and memorable as Lemper provocatively maneuvered herself on stage in sync with the music. The three accompanying musicians looked to be having a wonderful time with Lemper and one might have felt like they were part of the party that was taking place on stage.

Biting Honesty

The heart of her performance incorporated biting honesty mixed with an array of salty satire that proved to be the perfect cocktail. Lemper unabashedly experimented with her vocals and playfully created a refreshing perspective of hope as she webbed together significant historical events with song. She infused her natural tonal clarity with smoky subdued waves of emotion that created interesting moments of color.

This was best reflected in the Yiddish lullaby “Shtiler, Shtiler” by Kaczerginski and Tamir, which marked a turning point in Lemper’s performance. She was dynamically focused and sensitive, exposing her raw emotional connection to the music. This moment was eerily somber as the audience was reminded of the horrible pain and suffering of the past’s ghetto suffering and murders. Lemper pulled at the heart strings of the audience but most importantly reminded them of how easily history can repeat itself and tragically affect generations to come.

Hollaender’s “The Ruins of Berlin” was also part of this dark shift and Lemper’s approach to this song was tender and honest. Following with an intense performance of Hollaender’s “Black Market,” she transitioned the evening towards a more introspective tone.

With a history of being compared to Marlene Dietrich, Lemper’s performance of Hollaender’s work ran the risk of coming across as tributary to Dietrich. However, Lemper’s voice remained genuinely expressive and on point. She carried a powerful confidence within herself that could be heard in her voice and felt in the music she sang.

Lemper’s “Ghosts of Berlin” continued to conjure more of her own voice and pioneering spirit. One might have been unable to classify certain aspects of Lemper’s work but one could not deny her as a leading advocate for originality in the music world.

Overall, Lemper embodied a voice of awareness and resilience: a powerful voice of hope.

Click here to see the review on the OperaWire website

November 9th, 2019 was the 30 year anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. With that in mind, I am very excited to take you to Berlin on a musical journey through time and history.

Berlin has had so many faces and chapters through the years. In this special program at the Met Museum, I will lead you through the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic, its music, cabaret and political satire, from the ‘Three Penny Opera’ of Brecht/ Weill to the wild ‘Berlin Cabaret Songs’ by Hollaender, Schwabach and Spoliansky. This ‘Dance on a Volcano’ with the Theater Songs ‘Bilbao Songs/ Pirate Jenny/ Salomon Song, and Moritat of Macky Messer’ and Cabaret Songs like ‘Life’s a Swindle/ the Lavender Song/ I am a Vamp, and Liar, Liar’ represented the climax of the Weimar culture, but was utterly shattered after 1933 as the Nazis censured and eliminated every creative and progressive force. After 1933 Eisler and Brecht had created a ‘Cabaret in the Exile’, that existed only in the not Nazi occupied territories and only for a very brief time. After 1938 everything was shut down and most of the artists were in exile or had been incarcerated in the ghettos and camps. The ‘Cabaret in the Exile’ presented a collection of highly political songs, including the ‘Water Wheel’ and ‘The Ballad of Marie Sanders’.

Following the timeline of history, I include some songs written in the Ghettos, especially Theresienstadt that incarcerated the Jewish composers and poets.

The next chapter is equally haunting, as it brings us to the utterly destroyed Berlin of 1946, with songs written for the movie ‘A Foreign Affair’. It was filmed in the ruins of Berlin. Marlene Dietrich sang these songs written by Friedrich Hollaender in this very movie directed by Billy Wilder.

I often thought that if the Nazis would not have shattered the Culture of Weimar after 1933, the 60’s would have happened already in the 40’s and right there in Berlin!

Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

Ute Lemper who is bringing her cabaret showcase to The Bury Festival. Photo: Bury Festival

Publication: East Anglian Daily Times
Date: 17 May 2018
By: Nicki Dixon

The richly decadent world of 1920s Berlin and Paris is being revisited in a new show by cabaret star Ute Lemper. Nicki Dixon spoke to her ahead of her Bury Festival appearance.

Click here to read the article online.

Bristol’s St George’s is full tonight, parking was a more challenging than usual, and there’s barely room to move as people queue to enter the auditorium. It’s so full in fact, sold-out, that our seats have been given to someone else and we have to perch on the bench at the very back of the hall (thanks Joe on the auditorium door, and the box office staff for doing everything possible to get us seated)

Everyone is here to see Ute Lemper, actor, star of musicals, and chanteuse perform her ‘Last Tango in Berlin – The Best of Ute’ not something I might normally get excited about, but it would be silly to miss a singer of this quality in our own backyard.

If you were asked to imagine a German cabaret singer you’d almost certainly have a picture of Ute Lemper in mind, both my plus one and myself couldn’t help but compare her appearance tonight to that of Jessica Rabbit, just much less rabbity. Dressed in a long split dress she looks every inch the classic cabaret act. I was in Berlin in the mid ’80s as a 17 year-old, I didn’t see anything like this – I didn’t try hard enough!

I’ve previously criticised the venue for being too brightly lit but it works very well tonight to show off Ute & her supporting musicians perfectly.

The music is a mix of songs in French, German and English, and it’s obvious that Ute is fluent in all three. I favour the songs sung in German, my companion loved those in French, a lot to do with those being the languages we speak, respectively. The songs invariably lose a little in translation – the meaning comes through, mostly but some of the word play suffers. The Moritat von Mackie Messer just sounds so much better, how Brecht intended it, than any version I’ve ever heard translated to English.
I am aware that I’ve learned quite a bit about the origins of the songs we heard, and what they mean to Ute as she schools the audience as she introduces each song. It certainly doesn’t detract from the experience; it’s great to be able to understand the context of what we hear, although sat so far back, behind the audience, it was difficult to hear Ute’s softly-spoken commentary, pitched perfectly, as it was, for those in the paying seats.

Ute sings playfully at times, her jazz improvisation is stunning, mesmerising; in fact I struggled to remember any detail as the performance came to a close as I seemed to go into a bit of a trance, enjoying the moment rather than trying to analyse it in any meaningful way.

I know that I smiled for most of the performance, and left with a new appreciation for a genre I’d not normally seek out.