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1922-1932: A Career Is Born

Autumn 1921: With Greta Edelmann, tries unsuccessfully to interest Berlin agents in the dance program they have concocted. Eventually Edelmann takes a job as a choreographer in Elberfeld, Germany. Lenya stays in Berlin, taking odd jobs and selling jewelry she brought with her from Zurich. She fills her time by learning her way around the Berlin theater scene and taking in shows.

October 1922: Auditions for a role in a new musical pantomime, Zaubernacht, composed by Kurt Weill – the first time the two encounter each other. She gets the part but does not take it on the advice of Richard Révy, who is not accepted as the stage director.

September 1923: Plays Maria in Twelfth Night for a touring troupe directed by Otto Kirchner. Révy introduces her to a leading German playwright, Georg Kaiser. Kaiser and his wife, Margarethe, soon hire her as an au pair, and she moves to their house just east of Berlin.

May-June 1924: Meets Kurt Weill, who has begun working with Georg Kaiser on a ballet-pantomime. He remembers her from the Zaubernacht audition, and they soon start a relationship.

May 1925: Moves in with Weill after Kaiser offers him the use of his apartment in western Berlin (Charlottenburg).

28 January 1926: Marries Weill in a civil ceremony. Lenya recalls later that they married to quell local gossip.

Winter 1926-27: Plays Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Wallnertheater, directed by Emil Lind.

17 July 1927: Plays Jessie at the world premiere of Mahagonny Songspiel at the German Chamber Music Festival in Baden-Baden, her first performance in a Weill work and her first collaboration with librettists Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann and set designer Caspar Neher. Even though she does not read music, she holds her own onstage with opera singers.

May 1928: Accompanies Weill and Brecht on a trip to the Riviera, where they work on songs for Die Dreigroschenoper.

31 August 1928: Plays Jenny at the world premiere of Die Dreigroschenoper at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin. The show is a surprise hit, and so is Lenya, earning praise from leading critic Alfred Kerr even though her name has been left out of the program. (Kerr writes, “She was good, really good.”) Soon she begins getting parts in productions all over Berlin.

October 1928: Moves with Weill to a larger apartment in Charlottenburg.

28 November 1928: Plays Charmian Peruchacha at the premiere of Lion Feuchtwanger’s play Die Petroleum-Inseln (Oil Islands) at the Berlin Staatstheater, directed by Jürgen Fehling.

4 January 1929: Plays Ismene in the premiere of Oedipus auf Kolonos at the Staatstheater, directed by Leopold Jessner.

30 March: Plays Alma in the premiere of Marieluise Fleisser’s play Pioniere in Ingolstadt at the Schiffbauerdamm, directed by Jakob Geis.

14 October 1929: Plays Ilse in the premiere of Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen at the Volksbühne, directed by Karlheinz Martin.

24 February 1930: Records two numbers on the Ultraphon label from the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny by Weill, Brecht, and Hauptmann: “Alabama-Song” and “Denn wie man sich bettet.” pop-up: She goes on to record the same numbers for Homocord soon after. The opera premieres on 9 March in Leipzig; Lenya is in the audience despite a growing estrangement from Weill.

September-November 1930: Filming of Die 3Groschenoper, directed by G.W. Pabst. As she had onstage, Lenya plays Jenny, but this time she sings “Pirate Jenny”—Polly’s number in the dramatic version— beginning a long association with the song.

7 December 1930: Recording sessions for “Aus der Dreigroschenoper,” a recording of most numbers from the stage work with some members of the original cast, released on Ultraphon. Lenya sings several songs that she had not performed in the original production.

28 July 1931: At the invitation of Erwin Piscator, Lenya travels to the Soviet Union to make a film based on a novel by Anna Seghers, Der Aufstand der Fischer von Santa Barbara. She spends about three months there, mostly in Moscow, but the film is not made.

18 October 1931: Learns from Weill that he has bought a house for them in Klein Machnow (southwestern Berlin).

17 November 1931: Performs world premiere of a song by Weill and Günther Weisenborn, “Das Lied vom blinden Mädchen,” as part of a revue at the Volksbühne in Berlin.

21 December 1931: Plays Jenny at the Berlin premiere of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Theater am Kurfürstendamm, directed by Caspar Neher, conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky. Weill composes a new setting of the “Havana-Lied” in Act I for her. The production runs about two months; during the run, she participates in a recording of excerpts from the opera on Electrola.

26 April 1932: Plays Jenny at the premiere of a production of an abridged version of Aufstieg in Vienna. Her opposite number in the cast is tenor Otto von Pasetti. Lenya stays in Vienna with him, effectively ending her marriage to Weill. She and Pasetti will remain together and spend time in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Monte Carlo over the next two years, trying to make money by gambling.

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