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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, 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.

9 June 1971: Marries filmmaker Richard Siemanowski, who wants to make a film about her. 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 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.

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.

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.” 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 hate their mothers!” Lenya enjoys her final film appearance immensely.

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

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.

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 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.

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. Lenya’s health has been growing worse and now begins to fail, as she continues to battle cancer and other illnesses.

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

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.

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; 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.

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

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