Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Music for Johnny Johnson
As the world gears up for the centenary (in 2000) of Kurt Weill's birth, it seems remarkable that the works of this most haunting of 20th-century composers are still not completely represented on record. It amazes, also, to realize that although Weill, a refugee from the Third Reich, resettled in this country in 1935, it wasn't until two decades later that his music, despite the popularity of Bobby Darin's recording of "Mack the Knife," was accepted by the culturati.
First there was the 1952 adaptation by gay composer Marc Blitzstein of Weill's Weimar Republic masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, a major hit when it opened off Broadway with the composer's widow, Lotte Lenya. Then in 1955 the visionaries at Columbia Records launched a series of LPs, all highlighting Lenya's incomparable gifts. Weill's astringent lyricism and corrosive ironies have been part of our musical consciousness ever since.
So Sony Classical's reissue of Berlin Theatre Songs, paired with the unusual opera-ballet, The Seven Deadly Sins (the composer's last collaboration with Bertolt Brecht), is welcome, especially because of its refurbished sound and bargain price (the omission of song texts, however, is disgraceful). Lenya, whose carrot-hued hair and crimson lips suggested a lost Gustav Klimt canvas, wins no points for vocal purity; she growls, she transposes, she comes perilously close to speech-song. …