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Teresa Stratas Sings Kurt Weill

March 12, 2010

After listening to Ute Lemper’s two CDs of Kurt Weill’s works, I also got Lenya’s CD “Sings Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and Berlin Theatre Songs” (1956) and Kurt Weill’s “Die Dreigroschenoper” (1958), as well as von Otter’s “Speak Low – Songs By Kurt Weill“. But it is this CD, “Stratas Sings Weill” (1986) that prompts me to write another post about Kurt Weill’s music.

Even though this album was released earlier than Ute Lemper’s (1988 & 1992) and von Otter’s (1993), I find Teresa Stratas’s interpretation quite refreshing and very enjoyable after listen to it again and again.

Take “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” as an example. Lemper’s singing is more modern and theatrical-like, and  is probably accepted more easily by the public’s ears. Though she often forcefully pushes the high notes like screaming, which can be tiring if listening to it for too long.

As for von Otter, classically trained as mezzosoprano, she can sing beautifully and pace through these high notes with ease. But somehow I find her interpretation lacking something, some signature belonging to Weill (or Lenya’s performance).

Also as a mezzosoprano, however, Stratas’s interpretation is rather different from von Otter’s. Her take on this song uses a slower tempo than the other two. Her voice sounds more sensational and voluptuous, just like a real Venus.

Comparing between their singings, especially on the part “For God’s sake, WHAT is it?”: Lemper vs von Otter vs Stratas. von Otter pushes through, ignoring “it”, but Stratas puts emphasis differently. Another example is “Why is it wrong to murmur I adore him …”. Only Stratas sounds like murmuring. 😉

Stratas doesn’t not just sing Weill’s song in a classical way. Her interpretation can be quite theatrical as well. For instance, listen to this one. This song is quite rare and first appears in Lenya’s album before.

Stratas’s voice is very cute, isn’t it? The part before the song said (thanks for wildlx’s translation):

Tu veux que je chante (You want me to sing)
Mais je ne sais pas chanter (but I don’t know how to sing)
Mais alors, tous les enfants de Dieu savent chanter (But all God’s children know how to sing)
Je suis un enfant de Dieu ( I am a child of God)

(you can find a youtube clip for this song, which is “interesting” but not recommended. 😯 )

When I first listened to Stratas’s, I didn’t recognize that Lemper has sung this in her Kurt Weill vol.2 album. IMO, Stratas’s is much better! 😉

Then I started to look into Teresa Stratas’s background (recently I just got her singing on Berg’s Lulu conducted by Boulez, another master performance), and got to know there’s another album on Kurt Weill’s songs in 1981.

During the rehearsal of Mahagonny in 1979, Stratas met Kurt Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya. They somehow became friends. Lenya even said, “None of the singers today can sing Kurt Weill. There’s only one, that’s Teresa Stratas. She was born with it, and she can do no wrong.” Lenya gave Stratas the unpublished Weill’s works to sing in Kurt Weill’s 80th-birthday concert at the Whitney Museum in 1980. Stratas later recorded on two albums: “The Unknown Kurt Weill” (1981) and “Stratas Sings Weill” (1986). Since this album “The Unknown Kurt Weill” called wider attention to Weill’s works,  Time magazine even chose it as the CD of a decade.

I initially didn’t understand why Lenya would refer Teresa Stratas as the one. Stratas’s voice is nothing like Lenya’s (which is also quite unique on its own; not beautiful). But the more I listen to Stratas’s singing the more I agree with Lenya.

Even Stratas didn’t know that, as mentioned in the booklet of the album “Stratas Sings Weill”. She was made to promise that she would carry on  the torch for Kurt Weill’s music. A responsibility that Stratas didn’t want at that time. Then she stopped singing for three years. And it’s Kurt Weill’s music that made her return to singing, hence this album.

You can purchase these two albums in MP3 in many places, but I still prefer CD or lossless format. My order of “The Unknown Kurt Weill” CD is on its way. 🙂

Further reading:

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