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1951-1960: Renaissance

3 February 1951: Performs in a “Kurt Weill Concert” at Town Hall in New York at George Davis’s urging. The program is repeated 17 February at Town Hall and 31 March at the 92nd Street Y. She sings most of the female characters’ musical numbers in a concert version of Die Dreigroschenoper. This is her first public performance since The Firebrand of Florence (and since Weill’s death).

6 February 1951: Lenya’s mother dies in Vienna.

7 July 1951: Marries George Davis in a civil ceremony in Rockland County.

31 October 1951: Plays Xantippe in the premiere of Maxwell Anderson’s play Barefoot in Athens, directed by Alan Anderson, at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway. As in Candle in the Wind (1941), Anderson has deliberately written a part for her; other members of the creative team succeed in having her replaced during tryouts, but Anderson insists that she play the role on Broadway. This time, she draws praise from New York critics, but the show runs only 30 performances.

23 February 1952: Sings female characters’ musical numbers from Die Dreigroschenoper in a “revival” of the previous year’s Town Hall concert.

14 June 1952: Plays Jenny in a concert tryout of Marc Blitzstein’s English adaptation of Die Dreigroschenoper at Brandeis University, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. This first performance of Blitzstein’s work provokes interest among producers and agents, but no one is willing to stage the piece without adapting the script or altering the score.

22 March 1953: Discovers the body of Mab Anderson, wife of Maxwell Anderson, after she commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

October 1953: Meets with two young producers, Carmen Capalbo and Stanley Chase, who want to stage The Threepenny Opera as written. After several meetings, Lenya and Blitzstein give their blessing. Capalbo remembered later that he had to sing some of the songs to convince Lenya that he was the right person; he said, “I guess I’m the only director who ever had to do a singing audition to get the job.” He went on, “Lenya said, ‘Where did you learn to sing like that?’ I said, ‘From you.’ She said to Marc, ‘That’s the man to do Threepenny Opera.’”

Early Spring 1954: With Marc Blitzstein, gives a television interview to publicize The Threepenny Opera. Lenya sings a verse of “Surabaya-Johnny” and “Mack the Knife” as Blitzstein accompanies her on the piano, and Blitzstein sings “Solomon Song.”

10 March 1954: Plays Jenny in the stage premiere of Blitzstein’s adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the off-Broadway Theater de Lys, directed by Carmen Capalbo. Initially she refuses to accept the role, but George Davis along with Blitzstein and Capalbo convince her otherwise. Several weeks later, in May, MGM makes the original cast recording, an instant best-seller, and the show takes New York by storm, even though it is forced to close after 96 performances because another play is contracted for the theater. The show is revived in 1955; by the time that run ends in November 1961, it has set a record (since broken) for the longest run of a musical.

20 July 1954: Plays Mrs. Carroll in The Two Mrs. Carrolls at Lakeside Summer Theatre in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., directed by Herbert Machiz. She plays opposite her co-star in Threepenny, Scott Merrill.

3 April 1955: Returns to Germany for the first time since 1934, where she and George Davis plan to research Weill’s life for a biography; Lenya also has recording projects that Davis has helped to line up, co-produced by Columbia (U.S.) and Philips (Germany). Lenya writes to a friend: “You can’t find a single Nazi in Germany! . . . It was all a dream.” While in Berlin, Lenya crosses to East Berlin to visit Brecht; she also visits her family in Vienna in late May. She and Davis remain in Europe until mid-July. In addition to making a recording herself, Lenya supervises the first recording of Weill’s and Brecht’s opera Der Jasager (1930) for MGM Records (E3270); recorded in Düsseldorf in late April, it is released in 1956.

7 July 1955: Completes the first in a series of recordings, Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill (released in the U.S. as Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theatre Songs).

20 September 1955: Plays Jenny at the revival of The Threepenny Opera at the Theater de Lys, and remains in the cast (with a brief hiatus) until April 1956. The Threepenny Opera runs 2,611 performances, finally closing 17 December 1961.

22 September 1955: Records “Theme from The Threepenny Opera” (“Mack the Knife”) with jazz trombonist and bandleader Turk Murphy on Columbia. The record is not released commercially in the U.S. (though available for radio play), but is released in February 1956 and becomes a hit in Germany.

28 September 1955: Attends Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars’ recording session for “Mack the Knife” for Columbia. She and Armstrong do a take together, which is not released until 1982. Armstrong’s rendition is a hit and inaugurates a long string of successful pop recordings of “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, among many others. Armstrong includes Lenya’s name in the lyrics, an innovation other singers will take up.

October 1955: Stays in Maurice Grosser’s apartment on West 14th Street before leasing an apartment at 994 2nd Avenue in New York as a pied-à-terre she shares with Davis.

26 November 1955: Attends the European premiere of Street Scene in Düsseldorf, Germany, the first step in the prolonged process of gaining recognition for Weill’s American works in Europe. The text is translated by Lys Symonette, Weill’s assistant on Broadway from 1945 to 1950. Symonette and her husband, baritone Randolph Symonette, remain close friends of Lenya until her death; Lys becomes indispensable in Lenya’s last years as accompanist, musical advisor, and factotum. While in Germany, Lenya gives a concert at the Atlantic Hotel in Hamburg to launch Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill. She and Davis return to the U.S. 14 December 1955.

1 April 1956: Wins Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in The Threepenny Opera; the production itself receives a special award. It is the first time and only time Tony Awards have been given for an off-Broadway production. Lenya leaves the cast around this time.

14 August 1956: Lenya and Davis arrive in Germany the same day that Bertolt Brecht dies in Berlin. During this trip to Germany, Lenya meets Anna Krebs of Philips Records, and the two become devoted friends.

16 August 1956: Davis suffers a heart attack, from which he quickly recovers.

8 September 1956: Finishes recording Die sieben Todsünden for Columbia and Philips, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. Because of the changes to Lenya’s voice since 1933, all movements in which she sings must be transposed down a fourth. The work effectively disappeared shortly after its premiere; Lenya’s recording reintroduces it to audiences. Within ten years, it becomes a standard work both onstage and in the concert hall; now it is one of Weill and Brecht’s most popular.

7 October 1956: Broadcast of television program on Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany: “Lotte Lenya.” Lenya sings, and the program features an interview conducted by Josef Müller-Marein.

11 November 1956: Completes recording of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, which also puts that work back on the map.

20 December 1956: British musicologist David Drew replies to George Davis to follow up on an earlier proposal to write a critical study of Weill’s oeuvre along with a biography. The connection between Drew and Lenya is soon established and remains very close for nearly 20 years. Drew’s extensive and varied research will help establish Weill as a major twentieth-century composer; he becomes indispensable to Lenya’s efforts to increase respect for Weill’s music and arrange further recordings and performances.

February 1957: Release of Johnny Johnson on MGM Records (E3447). The recording, made in 1956, features Burgess Meredith and several members of the Threepenny Opera cast. Lenya supervises the recording and sings one song, “Mon Ami, My Friend.”

August 1957: Records September Song and Other American Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill for Columbia, conducted by Maurice Levine.

6 October 1957: Attends premiere of revival of Weill’s Die Bürgschaft at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, directed by Carl Ebert (who had directed the world premiere in 1932). Lenya and Davis meet David Drew for the first time.

11 November 1957: Receives the Freiheitsglocke (Freedom Bell), the highest cultural award bestowed by the city of West Berlin.

25 November 1957: George Davis dies of a heart attack in Berlin at the age of 51.

15 January 1958: Completes recording of Die Dreigroschenoper for Columbia/Philips, partly as a memorial for Davis, who worked hard to arrange her series of recordings. Lenya is also contracted to record Das Berliner Requiem, but cancels the sessions after Davis’s death. She returns to the U.S. in late March.

Spring 1958: Broadcast of “Night-Beat” on CBS Television. Lenya gives a brief interview and clips of pre-recorded songs are shown.

29 June 1958: Appears on “Camera 3” for CBS Television; she gives an interview and sings a few songs.

31 July 1958: Performs a “Kurt Weill Concert” at Lewisohn Stadium in New York.

August 1958: Records Invitation to German Poetry for Dover Records, reading 42 German lyric poems from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The poems are selected in part by Professor Guy Stern, who goes on to be a close friend for many years.

October 1958: Leases a small apartment at 316 E. 55th Street in New York, so that she does not have to stay alone at Brook House.

4 December 1958: Plays Anna I in the premiere of The Seven Deadly Sins at the New York City Ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine. Translation by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman; Allegra Kent plays Anna II (the dancing Anna). The first staged revival of the work since 1936 is reconceived by Balanchine. The production remains in repertory at the New York City Ballet through January 1960, traveling to Los Angeles during the last week of July 1959. Lenya is lionized by the New York press; she is now well established as the definitive interpreter of Weill’s music.

15 February 1959: Gives first recital at Carnegie Hall, a program of songs with orchestra in the first half, including songs from Weill’s German and American shows and three of his four Walt Whitman settings, and Die Dreigroschenoper (with other singers) in the second. Maurice Levine conducts. As with nearly all of Lenya’s concerts, she performs with orchestra, her consistent preference.

Spring 1959: Takes a romantic interest in U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Over the next year or so, she sees Hammarskjöld two or three times in social and personal situations, but he apparently lacks interest. The relationship does not develop.

27 April 1959: Appears in a City Center showcase dedicated to Tallulah Bankhead in New York. She sings two songs, “Moritat” and “September Song,” with the City Center Light Opera Company conducted by Maurice Levine. The “Ice Cream Sextet” from Street Scene is also performed by members of the New York City Opera (without Lenya), conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick.

Summer 1959: Records seven stories of Franz Kafka (“A Hunger Artist,” “An Imperial Message,” “A Fratricide,” “The Cares of a Family Man,” “Up in the Gallery,” “A Dream,” and “The Bucket Rider”) in English for Caedmon Records.

11 November 1959: Reads four poems of Friedrich Schiller (“Der Handschuh,” “Die Hoffnung,” “Grabschrift eines gewissen Physionomen,” and “Der Wirtenberger”) at Town Hall in New York, part of a “Schiller-Festabend” at Town Hall in New York, sponsored by Deutsches Theater in New York and Literarische Verein Wien.

7 February 1960: Performs again at Carnegie Hall, with nearly the same program and cast as in the previous year.

April-August 1960: Travels to Germany to perform in the German premiere of Die sieben Todsünden in Frankfurt. She also gives a concert in Munich, appears on a television program with Theodor Adorno, and records Happy End for Columbia/Philips.

6 April 1960: Plays Anna I in Die sieben Todsünden at the Städtische Bühnen in Frankfurt, choreographed by Tatjana Gsovsky, with Karin von Aroldingen as Anna II. The production is accompanied by revivals of Weill’s early one-act operas Der Protagonist and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren. The triple-bill remains in repertory during the summer.

6 May 1960: Performs in a Musica Viva subscription concert at the Herkules-Saal in Munich, conducted by Miltiades Caridis. The program includes Mahagonny Songspiel, followed by Lenya’s performances of Weill-Brecht songs and Die sieben Todsünden. Lenya repeats the program three days later in Darmstadt. The program is broadcast on Bayerischer Rundfunk on 5 September 1960.

9-10 July 1960: Records Happy End for Philips in Hamburg, singing all the songs with choral backing, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. The Columbia (OL 5630) issue is not released in the U.S. until August 1964.

August 1960: Rents an apartment at 404 E. 55 Street which she keeps for the rest of her life.

18 October 1960: Plays Jenny in a Los Angeles revival of The Threepenny Opera at the Music Box Theatre in Los Angeles. Several members of the original New York cast take part in the production; Lenya remains in the cast for about a month. While in Los Angeles, she receives a letter from Bertha Case, the U.S. agent for the Brecht estate, and begins a close relationship with her.


Up Next: Stardom at Last (1960 – 1969)

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