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Ken Russell opera and theatre

Weill and Lenya

Ken Russell - Weill and Lenya

Weill and Lenya - from Berlin ballads to Broadway blues.  Russell directs David McAlister and Judith Paris in the latter's play about composer Kurt Weill and singer wife Lotte Lenya.  In London timed to coincide with the centenary of Weill's birth, 2000.

It is primarily a musical, with Weill´s songs sung by Paris and McAlister. Weill and Lenya are married having escaped Nazi persecution, but are having difficulties in America both in their married life and professionally. It is a two person show plus two musicians on stage- pianist Sam Kenyon and saxophonist Toby Kelly- who sometimes join the story, for example doubling as Nazis checking passports.  The play running time was two hours including a twenty minute interval.

Russell had already made a television film Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill in 1962. Judith Paris has appeared in Russell's work from Dante's Inferno to Lady Chatterley.  The play is written by Paris with additional dialogue by Russell. This is Russell's first direction of a play as distinct from an opera.

Weill and Lenya - Big City - Otto Dix

The programme notes includes an image from Big City by Otto Dix.

Ken Russell writes “There was a time when I was mad about the 20s - its décor, its music, and its divine decadence.  I even gave fancy dress parties where everyone danced the Charleston, the Shimmy and the Black Bottom, to music from an old horn gramophone.  And when Sandy Wilson’s wonderful tribute to the Jazz Age, THE BOY FRIEND, hit the stage, I was there at the Premiere.  At around the same time, a revival of Kurt Weill's THE THREEPENNY OPERA came to town, bringing with [it] a sharper, darker edge to the 20s scene.  Impressed, I sought out a recording and discovered the sexy, smoky voice of Weil's talented wife - Lotte Lenya.   Forty years on and I am still under the spell of these diverse shows having been fortunate enough to work on various aspects of them during the interim.  It was in the early 50s that I met legendary Lenya herself and was able to talk her into appearing on the BBC Arts programme Monitor.  I staged four numbers for her, including 'Surabaya Johnny' and The Alabama Song' of which I still have dazzling memories.  What a star! Then in the early 70s, I talked MGM into letting me film THE BOY FRIEND starring young Twiggy. That was a happy experience.   And so too has been working on Judith Paris' tribute to Lenya and her genius husband, Kurt Weill - the man who wrote 'Mack The Knife' and 'September Song’ - and a wealth of unfamiliar material well worth getting to know. Getting to know more of this extraordinary Weill-Lenya partnership has also been a revelation.  Maybe it is time me to do a number on Sandy Wilson”.

Judith Paris writes "'Nobody really knew Kurt Weill. We were 26 years together, and when he died. I looked at him and I wasn’t really sure I knew him.' So said Lotte Lenya about her husband.  From the outside an ill-matched pair, he, secure in his quiet confidence as a composer, the third son of a provincial cantor and she, his pianist wife, a slum child, her catholic parents a drunken coachman and a laundress".

Ken Russell - Weill and Lenya

Images and quotes from the New End Theatre programme, 1999.


More stage work

Click title for opera or play The Rake's Progress *   Madama Butterfly * The Italian Girl in Tangiers * La Boheme *   Die Soldaten * Faust * Mefistofoles * Princess Ida * Salome * Weill and Lenya * Mindgame


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