Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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LEMPER, Ute

(b 4 July '63, M]auu[nster, West Germany) Singer and actress. Mother sang with M]auu[nster opera company; father was banker. Lemper's curiosity about pre-war German culture was whetted at the age of 13 while on a school exchange in France; there she was asked about the Nazi era. It dawned on her that she had not met anyone who was Jewish; to her generation that period of German history had been a closed book: 'everybody around me at home had actually lived through this but never talked about it'. Although she had been 'fed Brecht' at school, the playwright's work with Kurt Weill and other librettists was relatively unfamiliar; she found in their songs a contemporary relevance coupled with liberating ebullience and gutsiness. She first came to public attention in the Viennese production of Cats '83 and the Berlin production of Peter Pan '84 -- 5. Played the part of Sally Bowles in Jrme Savary's touring production of Cabaret after meeting Savary in Stuttgart '86. Ute Lemper Chante/Sings Kurt Weill had been recorded '86, released on Milan '88, then on Koch International/Bayer '89; its interpretations were relatively indifferent but by the time it became more widely available she had established a reputation. Her proper debut album was Life Is A Cabaret '87 on German CBS; Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill '88 on Decca established her internationally, reaching no. 1 on a Billboard cross-over chart; Crimes Of The Heart on CBS '89 had contemporary songs in contemporary settings. She sang the part of Polly on Die Dreigroschenoper ('The Threepenny Opera') '90 on Decca and made a cameo appearance on Roger Waters's The Wall on Mercury '90, the live recording of the Pink Floyd piece performed at Berlin that year. She appeared in Peter Greenaway's video extravaganza Prospero's Books, with music by Michael Nyman, and recorded The Michael Nyman Songbook '91 incl. settings of Mozart, Shakespeare, Rimbaud and the harrowing Six Celan Songs, backed by the Michal Nyman Band. Illusions '92 had a mixed repertoire incl. Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf but proved an overegged pudding, bordering at times on parody: tolerable in the spirit of fresh interpretation was arranger/conductor Bruno Fontaine's Hollywoodization of Friedrich Hollaender's 'Black Market', but a grotesque bilingual botching of 'Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt'/'Falling In Love Again' was decidedly peculiar, Lemper's unconvincing Dietrich-like phrasing not helping. Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill Vol. 2 '93 drew on stages in Weill's career, songs from Happy End (in German), Marie Galante (in French) and Lady In The Dark (in English), and found Lemper in refined voice: both voice and interpretative powers showed greater sophistication, but her accent in German also displayed a refinement quite unlike harder-edged vocalists such as Lotte Lenya or Dagmar Krause whose demotic vocal timbres (from Vienna and Hamburg respectively) were custom-made for Brecht's lyrics. City Of Strangers '95 was an album incl. songs by Weill, Jacques Prvert and Stephen Sondheim ('Ladies Who Lunch') which functioned as an extension of Illusions. More film work incl. Pierre Granier-DeFerre's L'Autrichienne, Robert Altman's Prt- -Porter and Norman Jewison's Bogus.

Inevitably Lemper turned to the potent 'Kabarett' tradition of the Weimar Republic (1918 -- 33), her arrival there coinciding with the renewal of interest in 'entartete Musik' (degenerate music), derided as decadent by the Nazis. Many of the songs of the era capture an approach to life lived according to the motto that a little sinning, especially against conventional morality, is good for the soul: Berlin Cabaret Songs '96 on Decca had the original texts of composers Berthold Goldschmidt (b 1903), Hollaender (see Dietrich's entry), Rudolf Nelson (1878 -- 1960) and Mischa Spoliansky (1898 -- 1976) with librettists Marcellus Schiffer (1892 -- 1932), Kurt Tucholsky (1890 -- 1935) and others, all sung in German. The same selection under the same name but sung in English was released the following year: the translations of the flippantly rapacious and frequently ambiguous sexuality of the original German were felicitous in a way that only a bilingual speaker could fully appreciate (English lyrics by Jeremy Lawrence from translations by Alan Lareau, Kathleen L. Komar and Michael Haas), while Lemper's stagy delivery was appropriate for the music hall and cabaret tradition. Interest in this period's music was also marked by Marianne Faithfull's 20th Century Blues '96 and supporting tours; Lemper took the repertoire on tour as 'Ute Lemper Sings Berlin Cabaret Songs' '97. Not for nothing had Klaus Budzinski named his book on the Kabarett tradition Die Muse mit der scharfen Zunge ('The Muse With The Sharp Tongue') '61: Lemper managed a synthesis of great character, beguiling in French, exotically timbred in English and highly distinctive in German. She starred in the London production of Kander and Ebb's Chicago '97.