Adrienne Haan presents Between Fire and Ice—A Diabolical Weimar Berlin Cabaret
Adrienne Haan, chanteuse
Feinstein’s/54 Below, New York, NY
February 22, 2017
Adrienne Haan brought her unique passion for and devotion to the cabaret repertoire of 1920/30s Germany to the elegant room that is Feinstein’s/54 Below on February 22, 2017. In the several times I’ve heard her, her art has deepened—that includes this occasion in particular. Never have the bawdy, politically-charged themes of the material seemed more apposite, given the recent political shifts and conflicts here and abroad. Plus ça change.
She sang a generous program, and one would never have known, until she announced it, that she was appearing with a last-minute substitute pianist: the excellent Howard Breitbart ( her usual music director, Richard Danley, had a medical emergency). Their coordination was superb; she has appeared with Mr. Breitbart in Washington, D.C. previously, though not with this program.
Tonight, she brought extra undertones of sadness and fragility to her renditions. She sang a great deal in English, often turning to German for the refrains once the song was familiar. I assume this was done to increase the understanding of the largely monolingual audience. I found her instantly more expressive and idiomatic in her native German (true of classical art-song singers as well). She has precedent in that no less severe a figure than Arnold Schoenberg wanted his vocal works performed in the language of the audience.
Ms. Haan opened with the wonderful anthem to corruption “Alles Schwindel” (It’s All a Swindle). She never allowed her contemporary opinions to become heavy-handed to the point of making her evening unentertaining, but it was clear where she stood at all times. She circulated among the audience playfully, ruffling the hair on the heads of a few men, and, to be fair, sitting on the lap of a woman as well, during her saucier numbers. All this was done with the great ease of a natural performer. Her patter between songs was effective without being over-long.
Other highlights included: “Ich weiss nicht zu wem ich gehöre” (I Don’t Know Who I Belong To), “Medley zur Emanzipation der Frau” (Medley to the Emancipation of Woman), “Das Lila Lied/Maskulinum-Femininum” (The Lavender Song/Masculine-Feminine), and a forceful, haunting account of Kurt Weill’s well-known “Seeräuberjenny” (Pirate Jenny). In Ms. Haan’s tributes to Marlene Dietrich, such as “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe Eingestellt” (Falling in Love Again), she sang expressively, but without the weary “used-up” quality that Dietrich could summon so effortlessly.
A well-deserved encore was the staple “Lili Marlene,” with its own complicated history: words, by a WWI trench soldier, set to music only in 1938 on the eve of the next world war, which became an anthem of sorts for soldiers of both sides. At the risk of repeating myself, my wish-list for Ms. Haan would be for her to delve more deeply into the bitterness, anger, even fear, of this era (she came closest in the Pirate Jenny, which was spooky); and seek out more unusual repertoire to weave into her narrative. Nevertheless, she provides a wonderfully committed, very engaging window into this specialized world, one whose message we must never forget. Chapeau, Adrienne!