Jaffe’s Jewish Jive
By Marcia Jaffe
Music lovers thrilled to the Atlanta Opera’s presentation March 12 of “Kurt Weill: Berlin to Broadway,” the second of three shows in this year’s Molly Blank Concert Series at the Breman Museum.
Weill, the son of a cantor in Dessau, left Berlin for Paris in 1933 to escape Nazi oppression before diving onto the American music scene. He had great versatility and vision as he brought eight shows to Broadway and tried to make opera more palatable. His desire was to create “freer, lighter and simpler” operas with a jazz influence.
Affable and talented pianist/host Gerald Steichen engaged the audience by introducing the selections with amusing background tidbits while accompanying operatic performers Anya Matanovic, Phyllis Pancella and Craig Colclough. Slides on the backdrop told Weill’s story in a compelling format.
Some things you should know about Kurt Weill:
- In his song “Mack the Knife,” Lotte Lenya (Catholic) is his wife, whom he divorced and remarried.
- He composed music to poetry, most notably Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”
- He believed that theater should be a voice for change and not an industry. He often gave away his songs to
Hollywood film productions of his New York shows.
- He was known for his versatility as he incorporated where he lived or what the lyricist needed to sound like an entirely different composer.
- His show tunes were often romantic travails performed by the likes of Mary Martin, Agnes DeMille, Gertrude Lawrence and Ginger Rogers, women tempted by sin. And who could forget “It’s a Long Long Road From May to December”?
- Sting performed Weill’s “Threepenny Opera” on Broadway.
Some comments from the audience after the show:
- Bernie Goldstein — “The concert was a mixed bag. I enjoyed the more well-known selections from ‘The Threepenny Opera,’ ‘Knickerbocker Holiday’ and ‘Lady in the Dark.’ The atonal and post-romanticism selections were difficult for me to digest. We got a comprehensive selection of Weill’s music, but I wish more of his well-known and popular pieces had been selected. There were too many esoteric selections, and the singers were challenged performing them.”
- Doris Goldstein (no relation to Bernie) — “Weill stood out as a person from Germany who absorbed American
culture quickly. He put aside his roots to become a part of the American songbook by collaborating with the likes of Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin. My hunch is he had to overcome some hurdles speaking broken English and jumping right into Broadway. Amusing also that many of us were surprised that ‘Mack the Knife’ is not an American piece.”
- Wendy Ludwig — “I have attended the whole series and think that this was by far the best. It was contemporary and had a Jewish component that spoke so well to the audience.”
This performance was another jewel in the crown that elevates Atlanta to a cultural Jewish mecca and the beneficiary of our charitable residents. The third and final concert of the series will be a performance by Israeli-Ethiopian singer Ester Rada on May 7. Tickets are $39 for museum members and $50 for others; thebreman.org/Events/Ester-Rada-The-Birth-of-Ethio-Soul.