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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. He plays “The Blue Danube” as she dances. She gets the part but does not take it on the advice of Richard Révy, who is not accepted as the stage director.

4 May 1923: Swiss order of deportation against Lenya is formally lifted.

September 1923: Plays Maria in Twelfth Night for a touring troupe directed by Otto Kirchner. Her salary at first is three million Marks per performance, which later in the year inflates to more than one billion Marks.

Autumn 1923: Révy brings Georg Kaiser, one of Germany’s leading Expressionist playwrights, to a performance of Twelfth Night. Révy introduces the two after the performance, and Kaiser takes a liking to Lenya. After her engagement ends, he invites her to his country house at Grünheide, an eastern suburb of Berlin on Lake Peetz, for the weekend. Shortly thereafter, the Kaisers invite her to live with them, working as a nanny and housekeeper. She accepts the offer and moves to Grünheide.

1924: Performs in Franz Grillparzer’s play, Weh’ dem, der lügt, in Berlin (role and theater unknown).

May-June 1924: Meets Kurt Weill, who has begun working with Georg Kaiser on a ballet-pantomime. According to Lenya’s later recollections, she met him at the train station at Kaiser’s request and rowed him across the lake to the Kaisers’ home. 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 at Luisenplatz 3 in western Berlin (Charlottenburg). Lenya continues to stay at Grünheide regularly for the next two or three years.

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

May-June 1926: Plays the role of Feemy Evans in George Bernard Shaw’s The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet in Berlin.

June-July 1926: Weill and Lenya take a delayed honeymoon in Zurich, northern Italy, and Cannes.

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. Lenya, who had not been well known before, and had not been known at all as a singer, attracts some notice.

May 1928: Accompanies Weill and Brecht on a trip to the Riviera, where they work on songs for Die Dreigroschenoper, then known as Die Ludenoper (Pimps’ Opera).

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.”) Lenya’s success leads to an active career for the next three years, including additional stints in Die Dreigroschenoper as Jenny and Lucy.

October 1928: Moves with Weill to a larger apartment at Bayernallee 14 in Charlottenburg.

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

20 December 1928: Lenya’s father, Franz Blamauer, dies in Vienna at the age of 63.

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

30 March 1929: Plays Alma in the premiere of Marieluise Fleisser’s play Pioniere in Ingolstadt at the Schiffbauerdamm, directed by Jakob Geis.

31 August 1929: Opens as Lucille in Georg Büchner’s play Dantons Tod at the Berliner Volksbühne, directed by Karlheinz Martin.

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

31 December 1929: Plays Fern Barry in the premiere of Ferdinand Reyher’s play Harte Bandagen at the Berliner Staatstheater, directed by Leopold Jessner.

24 February 1930: Records two numbers — “Alabama-Song” and “Denn wie man sich bettet” — from the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny by Weill, Brecht, and Hauptmann on the Ultraphon label with The Three Admirals, conducted by Theo Mackeben. 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. The performance is disrupted by Nazi demonstrators.

31 March 1930: Plays Sally at the premiere of Michael Gold’s play Das Lied von Hoboken at the Berliner Volksbühne, directed by Heinz Dietrich Kenter.

19 September – 15 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. The film is released 19 February 1931.

7 October 1930: Plays Frau Götz at the premiere of Paul Kornfeld’s play Jud Süss at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, directed by Leopold Jessner.

December 1930: Appears as Tanja in Valentin Katayev’s play Die Quadratur des Kreises at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, directed by Francesco von Mendelssohn.

7 December 1930: Recording sessions for “Aus der Dreigroschenoper,” a recording of most numbers from the stage work with Kurt Gerron, Erich Ponto, Willy Trenk-Trebitsch, Erika Helmke, and the Lewis Ruth Band conducted by Theo Mackeben for Ultraphon (A752-A755). Gerron and Ponto are members of the original cast. Lenya sings several songs that she had not performed in the original production: “Seeräuberjenny,” “Barbara-Song,” “Eifersuchtsduett,” and “Moritat und Schlusschoral,” all from Polly’s role. She also sings the part of Mrs. Peachum in the “Erstes Dreigroschenfinale,” taking the notes down one octave.

June 1931: Erwin Piscator offers Lenya a role in a film based on Anna Seghers’s novel, Der Aufstand der Fischer von Santa Barbara, to be filmed in the Soviet Union. She accepts.

28 July 1931: Travels to the Soviet Union to work on the film. She spends about three months there, mostly in Moscow, but only a Russian version of the film is made in which Lenya does not participate.

Summer 1931: While Lenya is in Russia, Weill works full-time on a new opera, Die Bürgschaft, with librettist and designer Caspar Neher. At some point, he begins an affair with Neher’s wife, Erika.

18 October 1931: Learns from Weill that he has bought a house for them at Wissmannstrasse 7 in Klein Machnow (southwestern Berlin). The deed is in her name.

8 November 1931: Returns from Russia and begins preparations for the Berlin run of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny.

17 November 1931: Performs world premiere of a song by Weill and Günther Weisenborn, “Das Lied vom blinden Mädchen,” as part of a revue, Wir sind ja sooo zufrieden, at the Berliner Volksbühne.

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 and makes other revisions to the score to accommodate a non-operatic cast. The production runs over fifty consecutive performances.

January 1932: Records “Querschnitt aus der Oper Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny,” for Electrola (E.H. 736) with the Ensemble and Orchestra of the Theater am Kurfürstendamm, conducted by Hans Sommer.

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, although they remain in regular contact by letter. She and Pasetti stay together and spend time in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Monte Carlo over the next two years, trying to make money by gambling.


Up Next: What Next? (1932 – 1950)

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