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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Odd couple returns to Broadway

By Norman Lebrecht / May 9, 2007

Broadway’s latest musical opening is a play on the lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, perhaps the oddest couple in classical music. He was a German composer of the utmost seriousness. She was a dancing girl who took love where she found it. She discovered her voice in the bitter satires that her husband wrote with Bertolt Brecht and became, for a while, their Threepenny Opera star.

But Lenya scorned marital fidelity and the pair were on the point of divorce when Hitler’s rise in 1933 forced them into exile. Weill, in America, reinvented himself as a Broadway melodist, working with Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein and Ogden Nash. Lenya, hampered by a pumpernickel accent and variable tonality, was reduced to seething idleness. Weill’s death at 50 concentrated her mind. Guided by a gay second husband, she revived Threepenny Opera under Leonard Bernstein’s baton and took it to Broadway for a record run – 2,611 consecutive nights - in a voice so cracked it amounted to self-caricature. As Rosa Klebb, in From Russia With Love, she became a screen icon.

The Weill-Lenya story, narrated through their letters, has been recreated as LoveMusik by Harold Prince with Sondheim veterans Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy in the key roles. The production, which opened last week, is marred by fake German accents and a woeful misreading of 1920s Berlin as Greenwich Village on wurst. I was, however, entranced by Murphy’s realisation of Lenya’s singing voice – not the growly, world-wise thing we know from post-war recordings but a full register higher, conveying something of the hysterical fragility of the Weimar era with its collapsing currencies and moral fluidity. It is remarkable how closely Weill and Lenya reflect the currents of their time, Weill clinging to rigid disciplines while Lenya shed inhibitions and embraced the unknown. LoveMusik is certain to reach Europe before long.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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