Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Lotte Lenya and Gisela May - Theater Songs of Brecht and Weill|
Actors: Martha Schlamme, Will Holt, Werner Richard Heymann
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
VAI DVD 4319 Music of Kurt Weill, Werner Richard Heyman. Special appearances by Martha Schlamme, Will Holt. 80 min., B/W/Color. 1958, 1972 performances
LOTTE LENYA---it's worth it JUST for her!
J. Martin | Seattle, WA USA | 05/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"LOTTE LENYA is THE definitive voice to Kurt Weill's music and Brecht's lyrics. This is certainly quite biased, but the simple truth, nonetheless. The 25-minute beginning portion on this DVD is taken from a live television kinescope from 1958, from a program called "Camera Three." The host obviously appreciates Lenya's work, and informatively prefaces the songs she sings for the viewer's benefit.
The program opens up in an empty theatre, with Lenya and her straw hat prop delivering the "Alabama Song," wistfully looking up for the moon of Alabama. By the time she finishes with aplomb, she is about to walk up the steps on to the stage, where she delivers "Surabaya Johnny." This is her signature torch song, and she pours her heart out. One believes she truly feels the pain inherent in this song, and we as an audience do too. Switching gears she joyously performs the "Bilbao Song," and we are transported to a place bursting with life. There's a bar, a piano man, and an overall atmosphere that induces high spirits. Letting Joe at the piano take over a moment for a solo, Lenya has a few swigs of beer and gets a drag of her cigarette at the bar. Leaving Bilbao, we then see Pirate Jenny from THE THREEPENNY OPERA, singing her signature song of bitter revenge on those who've jaded her as a prostitute. She is chilling and almost maniacal. The fifth and final song is "The Ballad of the Drowned Girl." Here is Lenya at her most tender and subdued, as the translated lyrics by the host tell of a song so grim, it is doubtful anyone would care to sing it in English. The German lyrics preserve its mystery, in a way.
By the time this program aired in 1958, Lotte Lenya had recorded for Columbia Records, beginning in 1955, "Berlin Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill," "The Seven Deadly Sins," "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," "September Songs--American Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill" and "The Threepenny Opera" (complete German version). These ESTABLISHED her, with her incomparable voice, as the greatest exponent to her late husband's music. The fact that her voice was not pretty by conventional standards, but extremely primal, raw and humanly truthful, is a testimony to her power as an artist serving the art. All of this said, I am very grateful that a DVD/Video has been released to provide the public with an opportunity to SEE Lenya singing these songs. This is the ONLY release where she is singing in person.
The downside is the fact that the rest of the DVD was dominated by Gisela May. She performs with authority, but it is with chilly and technical affectation, assuming herself the grande dame of Weill at the moment of performance. Therefore, I simply do not believe her. She pales in comparison to Lenya a half hour before, and when all is said and done she does not invest GENUINE feeling into the music. Whereas Lenya's vocal nuances and gestures sprung from genuine, in the moment discoveries in performance, Gisela May's are artificial and fake for the most part. Also, the Gisela May part turns into what one could call an irritating instructional video about Brecht, that no one who enjoyed the first 25 minutes with Lenya would give a damn about watching. When one gets to the cheesy Martha Schlamme part singing the "Bilbao Song," you almost want to just turn the TV off, until you see her and Will Holt on next singing the "Tango Ballad" from THREEPENNY. This black-and-white segment from 1963 looks fairly similar to the beginning part with Lenya, so it might belong on this DVD, but NO! One just wants more of Lenya, and the studio could have found more in the television archives of Lenya performing. For instance, she did a German television program in 1956 while recording in Hamburg, and did a half-hour BBC program in 1962. There's more in the archives of her that should have been compiled for this DVD. However, I should stress that I am exceedingly grateful for the 25 minutes that I can see of her definitively performing these songs. I almost thought I'd never get the opportunity to in the first place."