Adrienne Haan sings Kurt Weill
Adrienne Haan, chanteuse
Barry Kleinbort, director
Richard Danley, music director/piano
Novembergruppe Quintet: Dan Levinson, band leader/clarinet/alto saxophone; Jonathan David Russell, violin; Vinny Raniolo, guitar, banjo; Jared Engel, bass, tuba; Mike Campenni, drums
The Metropolitan Room, New York, NY
September 28, 2016
Late September, when “the days grow short” is indeed the best time for a survey of the songs of Kurt Weill—and Adrienne Haan has proved herself to be one of the finest living exponents of his varied repertoire. In the intimate, elegant Metropolitan Room in Chelsea (New York City), she commanded a musical sextet of excellent players, and illuminated Weill’s chameleonic nature as a composer, with anecdotes from both his life and her own.
Let me say right at the outset that this evening had only highlights. This is rare. All classically-trained singers of art song should be required to attend several cabaret performances a year to see how it is possible to emote fully and sing with a large voice and still make every word understandable, as Ms. Haan always does.
She plunges with apparent abandon right into the heart of every song, with a unique affinity for 1920s and 30s Weimar-era music that includes decadence and disillusionment—but she never descends into sour cynicism, as other well-known Weill interpreters sometimes do. Ms. Haan retains a sort of positive radiance. In fact, if I were to counsel her at all, it would be to develop yet another dimension, whether it is a kind of world-weariness, all-passion-spent, or a frankly angry persona. Perhaps she will as the years roll by, as she is still young.
She explained in concise patter how Weill shifted his style to match the various countries he resided in and the lyricists he was working with: Gershwin, Brecht, Fernay, Nash, Magré, Kaiser, and Botrel. Ms. Haan performed with authority in the three languages English, German, and French.
My Ship (from Lady in the Dark) opened with suitably convincing longing for the boat to be bringing her “own true love” to her. (Though Ms. Haan’s supportive husband was in the audience, and was introduced.) She then plunged into Die Seeräuber Jenny, the showstopper from Die Dreigroschenoper in which the scrubbing maid hectors her disbelieving listeners into a tale of capture and murder of which she is in charge. Then Ms. Haan turned to French Weill in the form of the Youkali tango/habanera (from Marie Galante) in which the land of infinite pleasure is first described and then negated as not existing anywhere.
Speak Low (from One Touch of Venus) was beautifully sung: “The curtain descends, everything ends too soon”- an apt description for this program. This was followed by Weill’s most famous number, the one everyone has heard even if they didn’t know it was by Weill: Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (from Die Dreigroschenoper) and its not-so-covert protest against the German regime which caused it to be banned. Ms. Haan deftly pointed out some possible relevance to current politics (without being heavy-handed about it.) The song’s sudden ending took the audience by surprise. She continued in intense-mode with Surabaya Johnny (from Happy End). This and the next lost-romance number (Je ne t’aime pas) I felt were the only tiny missteps in an otherwise perfect program. They came off as duly overwrought and desperate, but I felt they needed more anger and perhaps less “victimization.” Forgive me, Adrienne.
After a brief humorous explanation of how Brecht obtained his exotic geographical names (by sticking pins into atlases, in places he thought had funny sounding names), Ms. Haan delivered a stunning rendition of Alabama Song (from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) where her search for a “whiskey barrrrrrrr” was accompanied by the hurling of actual $100 bills into the audience, who were exhorted to join in the boozy chorus. Now that’s decadence! Cäsars Tod (from Der Silbersee) provided another censured bit of history, with its parallel of the ancient Roman dictator with the one rising in Germany at the time.
Nannas Lied states that “the love market becomes easier as you embrace them by the score,” with Brecht’s clever borrowing of the line from medieval French poet François Villon, “where are the snows of yesteryear.” Then Le Grand Lustucru (from Marie Galante) took the stage, a bogeyman from Provençal lullabies that devours little children who refuse to go to sleep. Bilbao Song (from Happy End), another whimsically chosen atlas-name, hymned the virtues of Bill’s Be-All Bar, where drink was unlimited, bar fights superseded any action on the dance floor, and the narrator can’t quite remember the lyrics to his song request, or whether the joy or pain was greater.
Regretfully, the evening had to end, and did so with The Saga of Jenny (from Lady in the Dark), quite a different gal from Die Seeräuber Jenny (or is she?), whose chief problem is that she sows tragedy quite effortlessly throughout her life simply by “always making up her mind.” Ms. Haan’s built-in (and well-deserved) encore was I’m a Stranger Here Myself (from One Touch of Venus), with perhaps more than a touch of nostalgia for her own experience as a transplant to the United States. Well, call me corny, but at an evening of Weill held on September 28, I would have liked to hear September Song. Maybe next time, and there will surely be many next times for this artist. (In fact, this concert was sold out, causing the Metropolitan Room to add another date for her in October.)