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The Lotte Lenya Competition

  • Lotte Lenya (1898-1981) was an extraordinary singer/actress and one of the foremost interpreters of the music of her husband, Kurt Weill. Born in Vienna, she later moved to Berlin where she met Weill, whom she married in 1926. She premiered several of the roles Weill created for the stage, including Jessie in Mahagonny Songspiel, Jenny in Die Dreigroschenoper, Anna I in Die sieben Todsünden, and the Duchess in The Firebrand of Florence. Known for her distinctive singing voice and delivery, she received a Tony Award for her performance as Jenny in the long-running Theater de Lys production of The Threepenny Opera in 1956, and a Tony nomination in 1967 for creating the role of Fräulein Schneider in Cabaret. She is perhaps most widely recognized as the stiletto-toed Colonel Klebb in From Russia with Love. Read more on the Lotte Lenya Biography page.

  • Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was born a cantor’s son in Dessau, Germany. In 1918, he moved to Berlin where he would create a diverse body of works for different musical stages over the next 15 years, including operas (Der Protagonist, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Die Bürgschaft), plays with music (Happy End, Der Silbersee), and a ballet (Zaubernacht). In 1928, his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann produced the runaway hit Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), in which the well-known tune “Mack the Knife” originated. Forced to flee Germany in 1933, Weill went first to Paris, then eventually settled in New York in 1935 with Lenya. There he worked with many of the major Broadway playwrights and lyricists of the day: Paul Green, Ira Gershwin, Moss Hart, Maxwell Anderson, Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, and Alan Jay Lerner. These collaborations allowed Weill to further explore and create new hybrid forms of musical theater, with such works as Knickerbocker Holiday and One Touch of Venus (musical comedies), Street Scene (a Broadway opera), Lost in the Stars (a musical tragedy), and Love Life, considered by many to be the first “concept musical.” See also the Kurt Weill Biography page.

  • When is the application deadline?

    The application deadline for the 2021 Lotte Lenya Competition is Tuesday, 16 February.

    Is there an application fee?

    There is no fee to apply to the competition.

    What is the age limit? Am I too old/young to participate?

    The 2021 contest is open to singers of all nationalities ages 19-32 (born after 10 April 1988 and before 17 February 2002). Please review the Guidelines page for complete eligibility information.

    I have entered the competition/been a finalist/won a non-finalist or discretionary award in the past. Am I eligible to compete again?

    Any age-eligible competitors who have not won one of the top three prizes in the past may compete again.

    I have a conflict with the dates for semi-finals and/or finals. Can I still enter the competition?

    If you know in advance that you absolutely will not be available for either or both rounds of the competition, then you should not enter the competition this year. However, if at the time of entering the competition you have a tentative conflict, we do encourage you to enter anyway. Only contestants who actually perform at the semi-finals and finals will be eligible for prizes and awards.

    I’m from outside the USA. Am I eligible to apply?

    Yes, the competition is open to singers of all nationalities.

  • How do I determine if a work is an opera or a musical?

    As many works may “cross over” and fit more than one genre, there is not always a clear answer to this question. In general, remember the aim of the competition is to show versatility as a performer across a variety of idioms. For each of your repertoire selections, be sure to choose something that is representative of each of the genres required by the competition guidelines. Therefore, regardless of labels, ensure that your program effectively demonstrates your ability to idiomatically perform Golden Age musical theater, opera, contemporary musical theater, etc. Take a look at our tips page for advice on creating a program.

    Why are two musical theater selections required, and what is the significance of the year 1968?

    1968 was the year the musical Hair premiered on Broadway, and in many respects marked a stylistic shift from earlier periods of musical theater, including the so-called “Golden Age” of American musical theater. The intention behind requiring musical theater selections from these two periods is to encourage performances that demonstrate the stylistic differences found throughout the history of musical theater. Pairing a selection from a musical from the 1920s with one that imitates that style but written after 1968 does not illustrate the diversity celebrated by the Lenya Competition, and should be avoided. A musical such as The Drowsy Chaperone postdates 1968, but as it is largely written “in the style” of a musical from an earlier period, they do not really afford a contestant the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to perform in a post-1968 style of musical theater.

    What does the “original version” of a selection mean?

    An original version of a selection refers to the stage version of a song as it is contained in the piano-vocal score of the show. Be advised that many aria and song anthologies do not always reprint selections in their original versions. If unable to locate a show’s piano-vocal score, you may need to verify that what you are presenting is indeed the original version of the song.

    Do my selections have to be sung in the original key?

    Selections from opera/operetta repertoire must be sung in the original key, in keeping with standard performance practice. Musical theater numbers may be transposed, but any transpositions should not be so extreme as to alter the perceived age, type, or character of the role.

    Can I make cuts?

    Cuts should be considered only if your program would otherwise exceed the fifteen-minute time limit. However, bear in mind the overarching objective of the competition to “sing the story.” Cuts should be made in such a way as to not disrupt the narrative arc of a particular song or selection. Also be advised that semifinalists and finalists may be called upon to sing unabridged versions.

    I need help finding the vocal score for my Weill selection(s). What should I do?

    Vocal scores for many of Weill’s works are available in print and may be purchased through major music retailers. However, some are out of print or have never been published (for example, Love Life and One Touch of Venus). We are happy to assist in locating the appropriate version of any Weill numbers for your use in the Lenya Competition; please email us at with any such requests.

    Keep in mind that all Weill selections must be sung in their original theatrical versions and languages (with the exception of numbers from authorized English translations of The Threepenny Opera and Happy End; see GUIDELINES for more information). Please note that many selections printed in the two-volume Kurt Weill: A Centennial Anthology (Warner, 2000) are popular sheet-music arrangements that differ from the original piano-vocal scores and are therefore not eligible for presentation in the Lenya Competition.

  • For guidance on making your preliminary audition video, click here.

    What quality does my video need to be? Can I make my video on my smartphone?

    Your audition video does not need to be professionally filmed, so long as the image is clear enough that the judges can see any expressive gestures or movements needed to convey the story and the audio quality conveys an accurate account of your singing. Your audition video should approximate a live audition; the view of the camera should include your whole body and allow you to move as you perform your selections. With that in mind, we don’t need to see your accompanist at all. Videos made on phones or webcams are accepted. Contestants need not incur great expense to create their audition videos!

    (A tip: Keep the orientation and proximity of your camera in mind to ensure the image fills the screen and leaves you enough room to move around as needed.)

    Does my audition video need to be filmed as one continuous take?

    No, we encourage you to submit your best complete performance of each selection; you are welcome to edit together your best take of each number into a single video. Please note that editing together excerpts from different takes of a single number is not permitted, however. When submitting your application, please upload only one file containing your performances of all four selections, rather than four separate videos.

    Do I need to bring my own accompanist to finals?

    A staff accompanist will be provided for the finals. Contestants may bring their own accompanists, at their own expense, if they prefer.

Other questions? Contact us.

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