Ute Lemper contains worlds, and moons, and each time she comes to Washington, she brings a different world, a different song with her.
Lemper is in most circles considered a cabaret singer, that ever growing tribe of singers and performers that are best seen and heard in intimate settings, a club, a hotel bar, someplace rooted in the European urban past, the world created by Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Even though Lemper was born in Germany and has the pedigree, calling her merely a cabaret singer doesn’t begin to get the siren song of her appeal, the things she can do, the songs she chooses to sing. It would be a little like calling a truly original, world class chef a cook.
All her perverse and unique qualities, and those a little more familiar, will be on display when Lemper brings her latest program, Forever: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda to the Sixth and I Street Historic Synagogue Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 8 p.m. courtesy of Washington Perform Arts.
She has been touring with this program, and there is a CD by the same name, both things reflecting her interests and passions, and an almost casual way of doing things differently. Neruda was the famed, politically controversial Nobel Prize-winning poet from Chile who was a passionately, engaged writer all of his life (he died in 1973, just after the Pinochet coup in Chile).
Lemper focused on his poetry, in particular his love poems, writing the music, enlisting a variety of world-class musicians, singing in three languages—Spanish, French, and English –in styles that swerve along an impossible range. On the CD, she sings sweetly, at the highest range, she growls, she scats in fits and starts, she growl, she embraces the love in the love poems with a fervor that feels like someone remembering the deepest moments of passion, the lost feelings of love in a place where there is no air conditioning.
“In Europe, he is remembered and talked about still for his politics—he stood up to Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which claimed his fellow poet and friend Gabriel Garcia Lorca,” she said. “But the love poems, oh, they are something else, they are special. I wanted to bring every inspiration I ever had to the poems, to creating music that exposes them in the sense of being faithful to the words. “
That’s bringing a lot of inspiration because Lemper, in her tall, blonde, German-New York, citizen of the world fashion has been inspired by composers and singers that range from Piaf, Jacques Brel, to Kurt Weill and Brecht to Joni Mitchell to Tom Waite and his poetic counterpart Charles Bukowsky, the poet of beer, bars and floordustlove.
She did a whole album, in somewhat the same way, on the works of Bukowski, did a Tango a album,(Ultimate Tango_), and when starting out as a young actress from Munster, played the part of Bambulurina in Cats”in Austria.
We’ve talked to her twice in phone conversations two years apart, New York, where she lives with her husband and two young children and the talk always seems conversational in the sense that ordinary things happen around her—the dentist, children, a dog in the background. “I’m not a dramatic person in my life,” she says. “That’s for the stage, that’s a performance, the voice, the presentation. It’s a different reality.”
“What I wanted to do with the poems was to have the right music for this beautiful gift he gave us, his love poems, in addition to the political legacy. I chose these poems to celebrate love, passion and life.”
The album, while almost heatedly focused, is nevertheless restless in its music, you hear the Bandoneon, the violin, the harmonica, the Charango, and so is Lemper’s voice, strong, tremulous, rangy, in fighting form, and in the deepest, sweets parts of hearts and their capacity for the most surprising of feelings.
In her program, she won’t neglect the work she’s best known for, the French chansons, the Brecht and Weill of the Weimar, the cabaret. “People expect it. I love doing it.”
But, true to form, she talks about working on a program of music focused on poems that came out of Auschwitz.
Life, with Lemper, is not always a cabaret.
WPAS present Ute Lemper performing Forever: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 8 PM at the Sixth and I Street Historic Synagogue – 601 I Street, NW, in Washington, DC For tickets, call the box office at (202) 785-9727, or purchase them online.