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1970-1981: Passing the Torch

Spring 1970: Attempts to stop an off-Broadway production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Anderson Theater directed by Carmen Capalbo. Lenya and Bertolt Brecht’s son Stefan are appalled by changes made to the score and script, but an arbitrator rules that they cannot prevent Capalbo from going ahead. After 69 previews and many changes prompted by Lenya’s and Brecht’s objections, the show finally opens on 28 April to poor reviews and closes a week later.

14 October 1970: Tapes interview with Edwin Newman for NBC Television (“Speaking Freely”), broadcast later that month.

30 December 1970: In a note to producer Hank Kaufman, Lenya gives her blessing to a revue of Weill’s songs that will become Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill. The show opens at the Lucille Lortel Theater (formerly known as the Theater de Lys) on 1 October 1972.

6-7 February 1971: Appears in a performance of Brecht on Brecht at the University of Cincinnati.

May 1971: Receives an award for achievement in theater from the Musical Theatre Society of Emerson College.

9 June 1971: Marries filmmaker Richard Siemanowski, who wants to make a film about her, in a civil ceremony in Rockland County. Lenya tells only a few friends that she has married again. The two never live together, and Lenya divorces him within two years. Siemanowski drafts a script titled “Lenya, and a Girl Named Jenny,” but does not make the film.

16 June 1971: Travels to Amsterdam to participate in the Holland Festival, where Weill’s Royal Palace and Der Silbersee are given in concert versions. Lenya plays Frau von Luber in Der Silbersee, and narrates. She returns to the U.S. early in July. The performance is recorded on Unique Opera records (UORC–261-A), but it is not released commercially.

17-27 November 1971: Plays Mother Courage in Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by Herbert Machiz, at the University of California-Irvine.

Early 1972: A pirated recording of Lenya’s 1965 Carnegie Hall concert entitled “Kurt Weill Concert” is released on Rococo (4008) without her approval.

14-22 April 1972: Plays Jenny in The Threepenny Opera at Florida State University in her last appearance in a stage work, concurrent with an exhibition of Detwiler’s paintings. Lenya’s old friend Randolph Symonette, now teaching voice at Florida State, also is in the cast.

19 October 1972: Appears as a mystery celebrity guest on the television program “What’s My Line” (complete show here). Four panelists ask her questions and try to determine her identity; because Lenya’s voice is instantly recognizable, she must disguise it when she responds. Nevertheless, panelist Arlene Francis soon figures out who she is.

10 February 1973: Performs in “Bertolt Brecht zum 75. Geburtstag” at the Schauspiel Frankfurt. First on the program, Lenya sings “Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mädchen,” “Seeräuberjenny,” and “Bilbao-Song.” The retrospective features readings and songs from Brecht’s plays, poetry, and journals. The program is broadcast the next day on Hessischer Rundfunk.

April 1973: Receives an award at the United Nations from the city of Vienna for improving cultural relations between Austria and the U.S.

20 May 1973: Engages David Drew to act as “General Manager and European Administrator of the Kurt Weill Estate.” Drew, who has been Lenya’s de facto representative in Europe for several years, now takes the formal title. Within three years, he and Lenya are at odds, and he is removed from his position, mainly at the urging of Lenya’s friend, sculptor Margo Harris.

6 June 1973: Divorces Siemanowski on the grounds of abandonment.

1974: Begins to suffer from various health problems, including a hiatal hernia and arthritis.

12 February 1974: Broadcast of a television play, “Trio for Lovers,” part of the Daytime 90 series on CBS. Lenya plays Rosa Harcourt, owner of a music shop.

March 1974: Receives a letter from Gottfried Wagner (great-grandson of composer Richard Wagner), who proposes to write a dissertation on Weill’s collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. Wagner and Lenya become friends, and Lenya contributes a foreword when the dissertation is published in 1977.

1 January 1975: Broadcast of interview with Dick Cavett on ABC Television. At the climax of the interview, Lenya and Cavett perform the “Bilbao-Song” together in German.

16 May 1975: Appears on the Today Show, NBC.

Summer 1975: A car accident forces Lenya to cancel a planned appearance at the Berliner Festwochen in September. David Drew has spent two years organizing the festival, which features numerous Weill works, including several world premieres. Lenya’s highly-anticipated concert is intended as a centerpiece.

22 July 1975: Broadcast of AM-NY on WABC-TV, New York. Lenya sings “There’s Nowhere to Go but Up” (from Knickerbocker Holiday) and gives a brief interview.

2 April 1976: Tapes a “Bicentennial Minute,” which is broadcast on 28 May, for CBS Television. Bicentennial Minutes were brief speeches given by various well-known figures to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the United States.

28 April 1976: Attends a concert entitled “The Musical Theater of Kurt Weill” at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Lenya joins the chorus singing “Mack the Knife” as the encore.

15 November 1976: Opening of an exhibition at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, New York, entitled “Weill-Lenya.” Lenya has spent considerable time combing through her and Weill’s papers to gather material for the exhibition, which runs until 12 March 1977. On 4 April, Lenya donates Weill’s autograph score of Die sieben Todsünden to the Library.

March 1977: Films scene with Burt Reynolds for the film Semi-Tough, directed by Michael Ritchie and produced by United Artists. Lenya plays a masseuse with unorthodox technique (a parody of Rolfing). In addition to massaging Reynolds, she chastises him: “All American men have sexual problems!” Lenya enjoys her final film appearance immensely.

November 1977: Diagnosed with ovarian cancer; she undergoes a hysterectomy the following month.

4 April 1978: Receives Distinguished Service Award, at a dinner in her honor at the Rockland Country Club.

6 June 1978: Enters New York Hospital for bladder surgery.

Summer 1978: Reorganizes the Kurt Weill Foundation, adding several new trustees in an effort to enlarge the Foundation’s scope and reach.

25 October 1978: Attends a concert of Weill’s orchestral music at Lincoln Center in celebration of her 80th birthday. Though she does not perform, Lenya appears on stage in her bathrobe and accepts birthday greetings from the audience. (She broke her wrist in September and wears the bathrobe to conceal the sling.)

12 November 1978: Sings two songs from Cabaret, “The Pineapple Song” and “So What?,” at a celebration of Kander and Ebb at Lincoln Center. This is her final public performance.

December 1978: Tapes two half-hour interviews with Schuyler Chapin for Channel 13 (PBS) at Brook House; they are broadcast 30 January and 6 February of the following year. She reviews her life in Europe and America with emphasis on Kurt Weill. Lenya gives a number of interviews during her last years; other notable ones are conducted by Peter Adam (broadcast on the BBC in May 1979), Beverly Sills, and Robert Jacobson (both shown on PBS as part of broadcasts of stage performances of Weill operas during the autumn of 1979).

Autumn 1979: Meets soprano Teresa Stratas during rehearsals for a production of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny at the Metropolitan Opera. Stratas plays Jenny, Lenya’s role in the 1931 production in Berlin. Dubious at first, Lenya is won over by Stratas’s approach to the role and her performance. She gives Stratas a number of scores of Weill songs, most of which have not been performed in decades or at all.

18 November 1979: Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, along with Cheryl Crawford, Alan Jay Lerner, José Quintero, Elmer Rice, and Tennessee Williams.

1980: Lenya’s health, which has been gradually growing worse for several years, now enters serious decline as she continues to battle cancer and other illnesses. In the last two years of her life, she makes few public appearances, has difficulty maintaining her correspondence, and communicates with only a few friends.

4 January 1980: Attends concert at the Whitney Museum in which Teresa Stratas, with pianist Richard Woitach, performs several songs that Lenya had given to her the previous year.

2 March 1980: Accepts tribute from the State Senate of Michigan and visits her old friend Guy Stern at Wayne State University in Detroit.

February 1981: At the prompting of Margo Harris, Lenya enters the hospital for cosmetic breast surgery. A few weeks after being discharged, she falls and breaks two vertebrae. By this time, cancer has spread throughout her body.

2 April 1981: Attends her last meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation. After her reorganization, the trustees and officers now include Kim Kowalke, Henry Marx, Harold Prince, Julius Rudel, Guy Stern, and Lys Symonette.

1 July 1981: Deposits her and Weill’s manuscripts and papers at the Yale University Music Library on five-year loan. The Weill-Lenya Papers are still housed at Yale.

September 1981: Lenya’s doctor informs her that the end is near; she enters Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital for cancer treatments anyway.

28 October 1981: Leaves the hospital after a final round of cancer treatments; she is gravely ill. She spends her last month in the home of Margo Harris at 300 W. 74 Street; Teresa Stratas also moves in to care for her. Harris prevents many long-time friends and associates from visiting. Lenya summons Kim Kowalke from California and asks him to succeed her as President of the Foundation.

6 November 1981: Signs a deathbed will in which Margo Harris receives the contents of Brook House and shares with Lenya’s sister and Anna Krebs the income generated from a trust.

27 November 1981: Dies at the age of 83; buried next to Weill on 1 December.

Back to the Beginning: Escape from the Slums (1898 – 1921)

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