Published by: Dessau Kurt Weill Festival

Du hast ja erstaunlicherweise schon in sehr jungen Jahren den Weill für Dich entdeckt. Interessanterweise hieß dann Dein erstes Album (1986) ja auch “Ute Lemper singt Kurt Weill”. Was ist das Faszinierende für Dich an den Kompositionen Kurt Weills?

Ja, ich singe Weill schon seit Ende der 70ger Jahre. Ich habe ihn als sehr junger Mensch fuer mich entdeckt und war vor allem von der Frechheit und Deftigkeit seiner Lieder fasziniert. Natuerlich spreche ich hier hauptsaechlich von den Brecht / Weill Liedern. Es gab kein anderes deutsches aufgewecktes , geistreiches, teilweise provozierendes Liedgut in jener Zeit, das so ueberzeugend war. Es entsprach genau meiner Mentalitat als junge Deutsche und gab mir Fleisch , Blut und Hirn zum reinbeissen. Als ich damals in kalten Kriegs Zeiten nach Berlin zog und zwar Mitte der 80ger Jahre habe ich den Weill intensiv studiert, gelernt und auch meine kuenstlerische Identitaet damit gepraegt. Als ich damals am Theater des Westens arbeitete ging ich nach meinen Vorstellungen von Peter Pan mit Freund Juergen Knieper in das Klavierzimmer im Keller um stundenlang Weill zu musizieren. Das expressionistische und auch politisch, philosophische Element in seinen theatralischen Geschichten und Figuren entsprach all meinen Sinnen. Die Lieder waren nicht besonders schwierig zu singen , man musste sie eben fuehlen und denken. Anders als Musical Lieder, die dramatisch und stimmlich oft Druck machten in ihrem Crescendo und Gefuehlswallungen waren die Weill Lieder eben Testamente, Argumente, Gestaendnisse und Angriffe.

Als ich in einem Weill Seminar in Salzburg Ende der 70ger Jahre auch die Lieder aus dem franzoesischen Exil und die amerikanischen Broadway und Filmmusiken hoerte, konnte ich diese Spannbreite kaum glauben und interessiert mich mehr und mehr fuer seine Lebensgeschichte als juedischer Fluechtling und Exil Komponist.

1987 offrierte man mir einen internationalen Vertrag mit Universal. Ich nahm somit die Lieder der juedischen Komponisten auf dessen Werke von den Nazis gebannt und denunziert worden war als “Entartete Musik” .

Damit waren die Berliner Kabarett Komponisten und natuerlich Weills Werk angesprochen. Meine Wiederaufnahmen von 1986 bis 98 begannen eine Wiederbelebung dieses Repertoires weltweit und waren sehr wichtig fuer ein internationales Neuverstaendnis der Weimar Kunst und Musik. An allen Universitaeten der USA wurden diese LPs studiert, die Platte Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill war 50 Wochen Nummer 1 in den Cross Over Charts in den Staaten. Die Menschen wollten sich wieder mit der deutschen Sprache und Kunst anfreunden , nachdem die Nazis alle Hoffnung irgendetwas Deutsches zu lieben fuer Jahrzehnte zerschlagen hatten.

Stimuliert durch diese Aufnahmen bin ich seit Jahrzehnten in der Situation die Deutsche Geschichte kritisch aufzuarbeiten und den Dialog ueber unsere dunkle und furchtbare Vergangenheit zu pflegen.

Du lebst ja hauptsächlich in New York. Wie wird Kurt Weill dort gesehen? In Europa spricht man ja hauptsächlich von der Dreigroschenoper, Mahagonny, Die Sieben Todsünden und der 2. Sinfonie. Ist es richtig, dass der Fokus auf die Arbeit von Kurt Weill in den USA hauptsächlich auf seiner Broadway-Arbeit liegt?

Der Deutsche Weill, vor allem in Kombination mit Brecht ist in den Staaten stets schwierig verstanden. Wir wissen , dass Brecht als Kommunist hier in den 50 ger Jahren angeklagt und verfolgt war . Obwohl die Drei Groschen Oper hier oefter gespielt wird und ich auch immer wieder die 7 Todsuenden seit 25 Jahren mit den grossen Orchestern singe sind die Brecht Kreationen verlaestert. Vor allen Dingen in roten Staaten der Republikaner haben ihre Probleme mit dem Verstaendnis dieser politisch theatralischen Kunstform. Klar ist der Broadway Weill hier bekannter und geschaetzter, doch ist er mittlerweile auch zu sophisticated um das Rad der Zeit und Gesetzte der Kommerzialitaet zu ueberleben, die hier in den USA das einzige Ticket zum Erfolg sind. Die franzoesischen Kreationen sind hier uebrigens fast unbekannt .

Du bist ja als Künstlerin in extrem unterschiedlichen Genres unterwegs. Beginnen wir mit den Musicals. Um nur einige zu nennen: Cabaret, Chicago, Starlight Express. Ist es der Reiz, bei einem Musical die ganze Bandbreite des Könnens zu zeigen, also Gesang, Schauspiel und Tanz? Gibt es eine Lieblingsrolle in einem Musical für Dich?

Die Musical Epoche ist eigentlich bei mir schon lange abgeschlossen . Starlight Express habe ich nie gespielt .. das war Cats als eines der Webber Musical. Frueher fand ich es prima zu singen , zu tanzen und zu spielen und das Medium Musical schien perfekt fuer mich.. dennoch war ich oft von den relativ oberflaechlichen amerikanisiert stereotypisierten Charaktere und ihren flachen Dialogen enttaeuscht und fand es schwierig so etwas 8 mal in der Woche abzuspulen. Na ja , da fand ich fast Sprech Theater interessanter , Filme faszinierender, die Arbeit mit Pina Bausch und Maurice Bejart erfuellender. Dennoch war die Sally Bowles in Cabaret eine Traumrolle.

Die Bandbreite Deiner musikalischen Arbeit hängt sicherlich auch damit zusammen, dass Du eine “Metropolitin” bist – erfolgreich u.a. in Frankreich, in England, in den USA und selbstverständlich in Deinem Heimatland Deutschland. Deine Interpretationen von Edith Piaf, Jaques Brel, Leo Ferrer haben Dich u.a. in Frankreich berühmt gemacht. Du arbeitest aber auch genauso mit Kompositionen von Astor Piazolla, arbeitest mit populären Jazz-Musikern in den USA oder interpretierst jiddische Folk-Songs. Wie schafft man es, einer solchen gewaltigen musikalischen Bandbreite den ganz persönlichen musikalischen Fingerabdruck aufzudrücken?

Ich erfinde selbst meine Projekte und lebe immer auf der Welle der Inspiration. Ein Projekt entwickelt sich aus dem anderen.. und kommt mir selbst als Ueberraschung in die Seele gedrungen.

Der Triptychon meiner Kompositionen um 3 Dichter war einfach pure Leidenschaft mit absolut keinem kommerziellen Verlangen oder Vorhaben. Es waren marginale aber ueberaus wichtige und erfuellende Projekte. Ich spreche von dem “Bukowski Projekt “, das Avantgarde Jazz Musik und seine verrueckten Texte exploriert , “Forever” , die Liebesgedichte des Pablo Neruda in Musik gesetzt mit meinem besten Freund Marcelo Nisinman (dieses Projekt hat sich direkt aus den Piazolla Tourneen entwickelt und meiner Zusammenarbeit mit Marcelo als Bandoneonist ). Es war einfach ein Herzens Projekt. Und dann kam “the 9 Secrets”wie ein Kapitel meines Lebens mit absoluter Notwendigkeit in mein Herz, ein inspirierender World Music Liederzyklus zu den Texten von Paulo Coelho war die Kroenung meiner Vorstellungskraft von bedeutungsvollen Gedanken in Musik.

Ja , die “Lieder fuer die Ewigkeit” war fuer mich Notwendigkeit als Deutsche zum 70 jaehrigen Kriegsende und dem Gedenken der Liberation der Konzentrations Lager.

Darüber hinaus hast Du auch Deine Liebe zur Literatur in Deine musikalische Arbeit einbezogen, um nur zwei Autoren zu nennen, Paolo Coelho und Charles Buckowski, wahrhaftig zwei sehr unterschiedliche Schriftsteller. Wie setzt man Literatur in Musik um?

Die Kreation ist ebenfalls ganz intuitiv. Es steht der Text mit seiner Stimmung und seinem Fluss , seiner Rhythmik und seiner Seele. Bei Coelho habe ich natuerlich erst die Texte etwas poetisiert mit seiner Zustimmung um sie singbar zu machen. Ich gehe dann ans Klavier und improvisiere mich stundenlang durch Accorde und Melodien bis irgendwann alles landet wie ein Puzzle und sich gut anfuehlt .

Du wirst im Rahmen des Kurt Weill Festes zweimal das Programm “Rendezvous mit Marlene” spielen. Dazu gibt es eine interessante Entstehungsgeschichte aus dem Jahr 1988. Bitte erzähl uns darüber.

Das Marlene Programm schlaeft und gaert schon lange in meinem Herzen und hat in diesem Jahr eine Gestalt gefunden . Angespornt durch 3 Skripte von Theaterstuecken und Filmen , die mir angeboten waren mit der Rolle der Marlene Dietrich , die ich furchtbar platt und stereotypisiert fand. Natuerlich habe ich meine eigene persoenliche Erinnerung an unser 3 stuendiges Gespraech 1988 in Paris aber ebenfalls meine eigene Pezeption und Faszination mit ihrer Legende . Diese Frau war einfach unglaublich. Sie war Weimar Kabarett Star , glamouroese Hollywood Diva und international gefeierte Saengerin. Sie war amerikanische Soldatin im 2. Weltkrieg gewesen, die die Truppen bezaubert hat in Mitten der Misere des Krieges. Dafuer hat sie die LEGION D”HONNEUR von den Franzosen , das Medaillon of VALOR von den Israelis , the MEDAL OF FREEDOM von den Amis und viele andere Auszeichnungen bekommen. Sie war Inspiration fuer viele Generationen von Frauen gewesen mit ihrer freien, unabhaengigen, emanzipierten starken Fraulichkeit die gleichzeitig in maskuliner und androgyner Alluere mit Sexualitaet und stereotypem Geschlechterverstaendnis spielte. Sie traute sich wie ein Boss zu denken, und sich gleichzeitig als Lady Respekt zu verschaffen. Sie war gleichzeitig eine Femme Fatale und ein Manipulator .. und das in Zeiten, als die Frauen klar noch in die Rolle der Unterwerfung gezwungen waren. Sie fuehrte eine offene Ehe und war crazy polygam …. , sie war einfach Generationen voraus in ihrem Lebensstil und Haltungen.

Wir wissen dass sie selbst 15 Jahre nach dem Krieg bis in die 90ger Jahre in Deutschland als Vaterlandsverraeterin verachtet wurde ….

In meinem Telefongespraech mit ihr hat sie mir viele Geheimnisse mitgeteilt und auch ihr Innerstes ausgeschuettet. Sie hat Rilke rezitiert , hat ueber ihren Gesangsstil gesprochen, ihrem Schmerz und ihrer Liebe zu ihrer Heimat, sie hat ueber ihre Tochter Maria gesprochen , die damals schon das furchtbare Buch ueber ihre Mutter geschrieben hatte , es aber noch nicht veroeffentlicht hatte. Sie hat ueber Lieder und Maenner und Paris gesprochen….

All das und viel mehr versuche ich in meinem Rendezvous mit Marlene zu erzaehlen und zu besingen . Ich imitiere nicht Marlene .. ich spreche mit unseren beiden Stimmen … ich verschmelze sozusagen mit ihr … ich spreche und singe durch sie .. mit meiner Stimme und gebe somit meine ganz persoenliche Hommage an sie.

Du bist Mutter von vier Kindern, lebst in New York, bist aber weltweit unterwegs. Wie schaffst Du diese Organisation?

Ja , das ist in der Tat schwierig und war nie einfach . Ich bin ja schon seit 25 Jahren Mutter und habe immer mit dieser Balance zwischen Beruf und Muttersein gekaempft . Beide Dimensionen mussten Abstriche und Opfer machen und erleben. Es hat viele Traenen des Heimwehs nach den Kindern und viele Zweifel an vielen verpassten Jobs gegeben , die das Familienleben zu sehr kompromittiert haetten .

Aber im Nachhinein habe ich beide Dimensionen immer mit Vollblut und voller Liebe gelebt und immer alles in mir gegeben. Natuerlich bin ich auch der Brotverdiener und verantwortlich meinen Kindern alle Opportunitaeten zu ermoeglichen, sodass sie dann selbst ein erfolgreiches und freies geschaetztes Leben kreieren mit vollem Einsatz und Dankbarkeit fuer dieses Privileg. Soweit ist mir das mit den beiden grossen ganz gut gelungen , aber alles liegt jetzt in ihren eigenen Haenden . Die Liebe und Naehe die ich auch jetzt noch Tag taeglich mit meinen Kleinen erfahre ist einfach das schoenste im Leben und jeder Moment ist wertvoll. Mein Leben ist reich durch die Kinder und mein Herz ist voll mit Stolz und Liebe fuer sie. Ich liebe aber auch das Alleinsein, gegebenenfalls die Einsamkeit, denn nur dann kann ich alles reflektieren und interpretieren und neue Gedanken voll spielen lassen. Die Einsamkeit ist wie ein Spielplatz.

Ich habe grosse Empathie fuer die Menschen und ihre Schicksale. Besonders fuer die, denen es nicht ermoeglicht ist ein Leben in Freiheit , Frieden, Wuerde, mit Recht auf Bildung und Meinungsfreiheit zu erfahren.

Somit gehe ich zum Schluss auf Marlene’s Lieblinglied ein. Ein Lied ueber die Sinnlosigkeit des Krieges und den unabwendbaren Kreislauf der Geschichte von Leben, Traeumen, Liebe…. Hass , Verachtung , Nationalismus , Krieg und Tod. ” Sag mir wo die Blumen sind “

Publication: The Broadway Blog
By: Matthew Wexler

It’s been 30 years since your infamous phone call with Marlene Dietrich, must have been quite a call! What stuck about that conversation to inspire you to create this tribute show?

I waited many many years , 3 decades to contemplate the 3 hours that the time stood still on the phone with her in Paris 1988. It took me a long time to be ready for this homage and to tell the Marlene Story I want to tell. This is obviously inspired by my own reflections about life, living between the continents, working all over the world, being a German expatriate, aging now with fun, doubt and dignity and being an artist, a mother and a free spirit.

Marlene was an incredible woman who was way beyond her time in her freedom of expression and also her powerful emancipated womanhood. She also had deep sorrow in her heart about the history of her country Germany , her broken relations with her home, her solitude and the abandonment and resentment felt by her daughter. Marlene was a hedonist who loved life and love and pleasures as much as she was a hard disciplined worker in her profession.

She recited Rainer Maria Rilke to me, her favorite poet and told me sad secrets about her life.
For 30 years I have been compared to her and always felt embarrassed to be co pared to this legend but was honored at the same time. She has been stereotyped and mocked for her controlled style and caricatured to death. But I am so fascinated by this elegant and deep woman beneath those images. Now I feel it is time to crawl into her story and give it life with my voice and my heart. I am not imitating her rather letting her speak through me with a blend of her and my soul together.

Younger audiences may not be familiar with Marlene’s impact on the entertainment industry. Is there anyone you could compare her to and what qualities did she possess that made her body of work so unique?

There is really no one like Marlene. The problem is she was used as inspiration to pop artists like Madonna and therefore mocked in stereotype and superficial sexuality. I would say the elegance of a Cate Blanchett comes close with a drop of Adele’s broken voice and Nicole Kidman’s elegance.
Marlene was a Weimar Cabaret star and a glamorous Hollywood Diva . She was a soldier in World War 2 for the American Army. With Burt Bacharach she started an international concert career. For 18 years she toured the world with grand allure.

Then she hid out the last 18 years of her life in Paris in a little apartment in solitude.

You’ve performed all over the world: Broadway, Paris, London, Berlin. What’s special about Feinstein’s 54 Below?

Feinstein is a home game for me . I love it . Its in my city , close to Broadway , where I spent a bunch of years performing. The team is super supportive and always accommodating. The audience wants fun , music but also theatre. This show will be perfect for the 54 below. I am though presenting it in big concert halls all over the world next year . I only play in clubs in NY and sometimes the proximity scares me…. but it is a platform to truth . You cannot bullshit in a small venue like this …. you have to be real ….. I love that !!

You’re now a New Yorker – we’ve kidnapped you! What are some of your favorite sites in the city and what would you recommend for a first-time visitor?

You know that I live here a very residential life . My kids are in public schools. I go shopping to fairway and walk my dog in the neighborhood. The upper west side is warm hearted , filled with life. Unfortunately we have lost many wonderful little restaurants and shops to the big bullies of Commerce. My favorite spot is my roof garden .. I can see down to the Museum of Natural history , Central Park , the Amsterdam Ale House and even the schoolyard where my kids run around for recess.

On a free day I love to walk the HIGH LINE !

Publication: Theater Pizzazz
By: Ron Fassler

You have partly based your show on a three-hour phone call between you and the late Marlene Dietrich in Paris thirty years ago. It began with you sending her a postcard, her response to that. When you picked up the phone that day, were you at all prepared for who was going to be on the other end of the line? And could you ever have dreamed you would have a conversation that lasted three hours?

It was an unbelievable moment . I had to sit down .. wanted to scream in wonder .. and yet was so humbled and honored. I was alone in my hotel room and just wanted to share this with someone. I wished I had been prepared … with burning questions and more detailed information about her life and movies. But at the time it was a conversation between a very young curious German actress living and working in Paris and a grown actress, a legend with an incredibly rich life story and career, an inspirational free spirited woman to many generations .

We talked and talked , well mainly she talked .. I did ask many questions .. but she just took off. In the middle after a good hour she had to do something, she said a plumber was there to fix the sink (I think she made that up , may be she needed to go to the bathroom or pore herself another drink )

Though you are both native Germans, you were born decades apart and from different cities (she from Berlin and you from Munster). In your research and discoveries over the years, or even in that phone conversation, what were (if any) the similarities you shared as young women?

We are both kind of Expatriates and have a complicated relationship with our birthland. I lived many years in Berlin .. the Berlin of the cold war , the eighties. I rather feel like a Berliner than a Muensteraner , that is only my childhood. But my years as a young actress in this divided Berlin has had a huge impact on my artistic and personal identity. I think Marlene also always had a piece of Berlin inside of her in her interpretation of 35 Hollywood movie roles.

it is this expressionistic sense of crude reality with a political awareness and a scream in art of pain and longing. She lived in Berlin before the world ended and I lived in Berlin after the world had ended . It was tough to deal with the German history that was put into my cradle … Nazi Germany and of course the most unbearable fact of the Holocaust. Marlene wore the same scares , inflicted in earlier times as a witness of the war and a witness to the German Righteousness after the war .

I started recording the cycle of Kurt Weill and Berlin Kabarett albums at that time in 1987, which defined my connection to the Weimar time as a protagonist of the songs of Jewish exiled composers in hundreds of concerts all over the world . In 1988 I sang the songs of Hollaender and Spoliansky that Marlene had sung in 1928. I was the first German to rerecord this repertoire after the war.

Do you remember when you first became aware of who Marlene was as a young girl interested in singing and the dancing? Or was she such a ubiquitous presence in German culture, that any young person would have known who she was?

She was a mystery .. a glamorous Holywood actress … but also a statue , frozen in stylism. A mythe. Her German story was not rarely talked about. There were some dark clouds adorning this legacy.

What is it about Marlene Dietrich that fascinates you? Do you subscribe to the notion that she was more of a unique stylist than a great singer? And if so, is there a distinction between those two things that you would care to expand upon?

I care about her story. RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE is the story I want to tell ….. There are many stories out theer about her .. this one is my personal homage … I tell the story through my eyes and sing her songs with my voice .. I am not really impersonating her….neither imitating her……. but she is rather using my body and voice to speak.

Marlene was a groundbreaking woman. She was a free spirit , sexual , seductive, yet masculine , androgynous, totally polygamous in her open marriage. She was politically and morally outspoken and courageous. She was ladylike and bossy at the same time .. she had class but loved whisky , dirty jokes and a good smoke. She was a heck of a guy to hang out with said Billy Wilder.

Marlene recited Rainer Maria Rilke on the phone, she spoke about her movies and songs .. mostly about the really sad and heartbreaking songs that she preferred to the light entertaining ones. She spoke about Paris , Jean Gabin , about her daughter Maria Riva , who had written that ugly book about her. It was fully written at the time of our conversation and Marlene said that she had to beg her daughter on her knees , not to publish it before her death.

She was also very sad about being hated and rejected in Germany. She spoke about men .. love and solitude … and much more.

When you took on one of her most iconic roles, that of Lola in The Blue Angel, in a 1992 German stage production, how much of the film did you watch in order to prepare? Or did you even look at it at all?

Of coure I knew the movie. But , I did not want to act Marlene Dietrich , but the part of LOLA. I conceived that part intentionally opposite to Marlene’s image. I was red haired , punk , modern , edgy and wild. My physic was anyway so different from Marlene’s huge round body in 1928.

In what ways does Marlene Dietrich symbolize Germany for you, or Berlin specifically? And does it have more to do with its past, or does it resonate still in its present?

She does not symbolize Berlin …. the story is very twisted and complicated. After the Germans rejected her in 1960 , treating her as a traitor to the fatherland , having been a soldier for the USArmy during World War 2 , she said the Germans and I no longer speak the same language ….. she never was welcomed back … only in her coffin .. and not even then …..

Only 100 years after her birthday the Germans embraced her again. This is now 2001 .. Berlin… finally the city had dedicated a big Square to her : the Marlene Dietrich Platz.

This is a complex subject and also reflects modern times of Nationalistic movements and populism. These feeling are deeply engrained in the societies, a selfrighteous arrogance that poisons the mind of our societies. As if people never learn ? Marlene had said it did not take much brain to be an Anti Nazi but still until 1990 many Germans did not forgive her to have chosen the other (obvious) side , the side of the Americans. …

You began your musical career singing in a jazz-rock band, and have Joan Armatrading, Chick Corea and the Brecker Brothers as influences. When did you become a fan of the sort of music that Dietrich represented?

I started recording the Weimar Music in 1987 and sing it world wide since those years. I have kept the dialog alive and burning about this chapter of history as a mission to my life .

Marlene sang many different songs .. Some are very corny …. so can be her singing style ..but some songs are classics and ever wonderful and contemporary.

And since you are singing many songs Dietrich used to sing in your show, where do her favorites fit into your catalogue of favorites?

sch , kleines Baby….. Where have all the flowers gone (Pete seeger)…. the answer my friend is blowing in the wind (bob Dylan) …. ne me quitte pas (brel) Laziest Gal in town ( Cole Porter) ….. falling in love again (Hollaender) and many others ……

Later in her career, Marlene had the good fortune to have enlisted Burt Bacharach as her musical director. Can you talk about the importance of Vana Gierig and the other musicians with whom you have had long associations?

I work with Vana for 15 years . A wonderful friend .. and incredible pianist .. but he is not my musical director … We actually invent most of the arrangements in collective creative rehearsal situations . We are always a team. All the musicians are my kings and brothers and sisters.

Finally, what would you want someone to take away with them about Marlene Dietrich, who might never heard of her before the curtain goes up on your show?

Oh , you are in for an incredible story … history , fate, courage, style, politics , glamour and sex, talent and a huge career in a deviiish dance around the fire between Berlin and Hollywood, youth and age.

Publication: Theater blog ‘Call Me Adam’
By: Adam Rothenberg

This month you are returning to Feinstein’s/54 Below with your new show “Rendezvous with Marlene.” What are you looking forward to about this show?

RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE means a lot to me. It is my personal homage to that great Lady. Its is the Story I chose to tell about her and the story I want people to hear. 

There are many portraits of Marlene out there , this one is coming from my heart. She is telling her life through my filter and singing her songs with my voice. 

This show is based upon your 3-hour phone call between you & Marlene back in 1988. When did you decide you wanted to turn this conversation into a show? How did you recall everything you talked about? Did you record the phone conversation 30 years ago?

No, I did not record that phone call on any recording device , just in my heart and consciousness. There it slept and stayed dormant for a long time. I always appreciated the comparisons, it was rather an honor to be called Marlene Dietrich. At the same time I knew that artistically I was nothing like her. Plus I was so young , wild and untamable in my own way. I grew up with the music of the 70s , with Pink Floyd and the Beatles… I always had an edge and  did not conform. Well , this last part sounds very much like Dietrich , right ? Yes , I was also German with a rather complicated history and relationship with my country. I was also an expatriate that would never sing the German National Hymne. I had a great anger and horror about the history of Nazi Germany and of course the Holocaust. Being married to a New York Jew, also in my 2nd marriage, I have much to separate myself in my heart and soul from my home country. It hurts to have feelings like this .. like I don t belong where I am born …. or I cannot belong there … She felt similar. 

There are many dimensions by now 30 years or more later than I can relate to her destiny. 

Last year I was asked to play Dietrich in 3 different stage productions , a play in Paris that shows her love affair to Jean Gabin, a stage show that explores her love affair to Piaf and another smaller british movie. I thought all the scripts were stereo type and not researched enough. I gave everyone my input and sold my ideas and knowledge for free … ha… then I thought , why don t I write  my own play and base it on the one unique personal encounter with her . 

Thats the story . Between memories , really inside treasures and a bunch of research  and of course some imagination I wrote this play and included Marlene’s most gorgeous songs. 

It is not an imitation of her , but my reflection of her, my projection .

What part of your conversation did you know right away had to be in the show? What part of the conversation didn’t make it into the show?

Oh , the Rainer Maria Rilke quotes are memorable and meaningful. The tales about Germany , having lost her home land…  her sad words about her  broken relationship with her daughter. What I remember , made it into the show…., of course there is lots of additional storytelling to explore her journey. 

What did you learn about Marlene or yourself in creating this show that you didn’t know 30 years ago?

I internalized her story and identified with it. I never wanted to really embrace that identification. Now I am ready .. I am much older, I have enough distance to everything …in this world … career, society, culture, love, children, pressure, beauty, aging  … and yet enough proximity to her dignity, class, game , sexuality, pain and sorrow, solitude and hedonism.  It is great fun to crawl into her story. 

As you were talking to Marlene Dietrich in 1988, do you remember what was going through your head as you were talking to this living legend?

I could not believe it . I always said , I wish I would have been older when we had the conversation. Marlene asked on the phone how old I was and she was disappointed when I told her I was 24. She wanted an equal … a girlfriend, but I was not there yet . Now , I try to be a good friend of hers telling her story. 

How did Marlene Dietrich influence you?

I am not sure whether it was the influence of Marlene or rather just my personal aesthetics that often made me look like her on photos and in my styling. I just liked a classy , seductive, powerful and mysterious Aura. I was always drawn to the Art Nouveau, the Film Noir and the Shadows that determine the light.  Her style was classy but also corny and super artificial to me. Her unique choices were very inspiring. She was morally and politically courageous and outspoken. 

She represented an emancipated woman, a free spirit, sexual , yet masculine and androgynous, powerful , ladylike and bossy at the same time , she exercised an open marriage and was crazy polygamous (haha, fantastic).

Marlene chose to join the USArmy and entertain the Soldiers during World War 2,  to keep up their morals at the front lines. Yes , she loved the thousands of men / soldiers around herself , but she also risked her life. She admitted that she was scared of capture. 

For your performance in “Cabaret” in Paris, you received the French Moliére Award and garned a lot of comparison to Marlene Dietrich. At that time, what was it like to be compared to Marlene Dietrich? What made you send her an apology letter for the comparison? How did she respond to the letter?

I felt that this incredible Legend , who had been a Weimar Kabarett Star , a most glamorous Hollywood Diva, an Ambassador to peace deserved better than the comparison to a 24 year old young actress.   And just because I was German and started a career abroad  … I fell into this category Dietrich or Romy Schneider. I wanted to express my admiration and thanked her for myself and generations of women she had empowered. 

In 1992, Marlene Dietrich passed away, six days before the opening night of the Berlin production of “Blue Angel,” in which you played “Lola,” the role that made Marlene Dietrich a star in 1928. How did her passing affect you & influence the way you played the role after her passing?

Her death did not affect my interpretation of the role of LOLA.  I did not play Dietrich , but LOLA.  I had chosen deliberately not to play it with a blond wig and high penciled eyebrows, but rather red haired , punk and confrontational. 

Many things happened to her legacy and to mine too after her death throughout those years after the fall of the Wall , the new united Germany etc. Marlene’s story is a complicated one and it hurts … its a painful story and an embarrassing story for Germany honestly. It took Germany a hundred years to finally embrace her. How deeply rooted is nationalism and extreme righteous and rightwing hatred. ????

You will hear incredible parts of her story , you probably do not even know in this country …. it is shocking. 

But I lived through enough times of provincial populism that brings out the worst in human beings to also talk about that part of Marlene’s story……. but there is much more than that to this Lady… 

come check it out !

If Marlene were alive today, what do you think your relationship with her would be like? What song would you like to record with her?

I would go and visit and have a bottle or 5 of Moet Chandon with her… and laugh out loud about the world and simply have a good time.  We would be “the laziest gals in town !!!…..

I have a component to my interviews called “I Can See Clearly” now where I try to clear-up misconceptions about my interviewees. But for this interview, I’d like to ask, what do you think was the biggest misconception about Marlene Dietrich that you would like to clear up right now?

Due to the fact that mainly her photographs survive the wheel of time …. she was not this stereotype image …. she manipulated her shots to perfection and capture that still life .. and behind that image was a free bird , passionate, provocative, courageous and completely non conform. Also being a great cook and housecleaner, she loved a dirty joke , a stiff drink and good smoke. 

I visited Billy Wilder in 1988 in Hollywood with my friend Volker Schloendorff. Billy had known Marlene very well and gave me some personal insides that also contributed to RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE.

L’Officiel-Hommes Levant
June-July Issue 84
Par:  NASRI SAYEGH

Le 25 juillet prochain, sur les marches du Palais de Beiteddine, l’actrice et chanteuse allemande Ute Lemper nous donne rendez vous avec un mythe, celui de l’éternelle Marlene Dietrich. Rencontre au sujet d’un presque-siècle de passions…

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