The MetLiveArts Series Concert 2019-20 Review: Ute Lemper: Weimar Holiday

A Unique Talent Delivers A Potent Human Experience Through Music

By Jennifer Pyron
(Credit: Paula Lobo)

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.

 

Opera D'amore world premiere ft. José Carreras

 

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.

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