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Lotte Lenya

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Biography

Born: October 18, 1898; Penzing, Vienna   Died: November 27, 1981; New York, NY  
Lotte Lenya was the best known Austrian singer-actress of the twentieth century, particularly in connection with the works of her first husband, Kurt Weill.

Born Karoline Wilhelmine Blaumauer, she moved to Switzerland in 1914. She studied classical dance in Zürich until 1920, part of that time working in the Zürich Opera's ballet company and as a dramatic actress, where she was impressed by actor Frank Wedekind's distinctive style of
Read more ballad singing. She moved to Berlin in 1920 to further her career as a dancer. She had only sporadic success, but the great expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser encouraged her to adopt acting as her primary occupation.

In 1923 Kaiser began working with the young composer Kurt Weill, and through him, Lenya met Weill. They were married in 1926. Lenya sang in their first collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, Mahagonny Songspiel in 1927. Lenya appeared in a supporting role in the sensational Weill-Brecht musical Der Dreigroschenoper (1928). She also sang on the classic Ultraphon recordings its music in 1930 and a film of it shot the same year. She had a starring role in 1930 in Weill and Brecht's opera Aufstieg und Fall des Stadt Mahagonny.

The rise of Hitler caused Weill and Lenya to flee Berlin, but in opposite directions, as they were by then embroiled in divorce. She was working in theater in Vienna when she was asked to sing and act in the latest Weill-Brecht production, The Seven Deadly Sins, in Paris. It was not Weill who had asked for her, but Edward James the production's financier who had noticed that dancer Tilli Losch and Lenya had strikingly similar appearances and cast them as two sides of the protagonist's character. This began a process of reconciliation between Weill and Lenya. They remarried in 1937 in New York state. Weill went on to a career mostly in Broadway theater, and Lenya to an important acting career, including appearances in three of Weill's works for the American stage.

After Weill's death in 1950, his European career virtually forgotten, Lenya began a lifelong campaign to revive his "lost" music. In the 1950s she starred in productions of all the Brechtian works beginning with a sensational 1952 off-Broadway revival of Dreigroschenoper. She also transmitted the performing tradition of these works, a mixed blessing since time and tobacco had lowered her voice drastically from the "pure, angelic" range the music was written for. She hired composer Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg to transpose and rescore the music and published the results without commenting on the changes. This resulted in a misunderstanding of the intended vocal casting of the music and, by extension, that of other Weill works. This particularly affected The Seven Deadly Sins, which received several productions around the world in Lenya's later voice range before the original soprano version was discovered.

In addition, Lenya continued her stage and screen acting career. Two of her performances include her uncharacteristic but effective performance in the James Bond film From Russia with Love (1963) as the stiletto-booted Col. Rosa Kleb, and as Clara Pelf in the football movie Semi-Tough (1978).

She remarried three times, to George Davis (1951 - 1957), Russell Detwiler (1962 - 1969), and Richard Siemanowski (1971 - 1973). Before she died of cancer, she extensively coached singer Teresa Stratas in Weill's songs, further transmitting the authentic Weill tradition. Read less

There are 14 Lotte Lenya recordings available.

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