We honor two stalwarts of the musical theater, both noted for performing Kurt Weill, who have passed away recently.
German actress and singer Gisela May died on 2 December 2016 at the age of 92. After building a reputation over two decades of work in the German theater, “die May” joined the Berliner Ensemble in 1962 and immediately became an essential member of the company. Her best-known role was Mother Courage, which she took over upon the death of Brecht’s widow, Helene Weigel, and played for many years. (To give you an idea of her range, May also starred in the German version of Hello, Dolly!) She toured the world as a concert artist, specializing in settings of Brecht’s poems and lyrics by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Paul Dessau; her programs also featured other renowned Weimar authors, including Kurt Tucholsky and Erich Kästner. She had a distinguished career as a television and film actress as well.
Her connection with Weill was strong. After Lotte Lenya revived Die sieben Todsünden in the late 1950s, May was the first to follow her lead, playing Anna I for the first time in 1964 and taking the role many times thereafter. (Her recording has been reissued most recently on the Brilliant Classics label.) May recorded several Weill-Brecht songs which have stayed in print for decades, and a home video release of her 1972 recording of songs by Weill, Eisler, and Dessau, paired with an earlier Lenya performance, is available on VAI 4319.
Like Lenya, May explored depths of the human heart as both an actress and singer and knew how to put across a song despite a lack of vocal virtuosity. Paul Dessau, who composed the music for Mother Courage, said of her, “She doesn’t sing beautifully, she sings right.”
The American-born soprano Elisabeth Carron died on 1 December 2016 at 94. She appeared in opera houses around the world from the 1940s through the 1980s, and was especially noted for her Puccini roles. Carron sang Birdie in Blitzstein’s Regina at New York City Opera in the 1958 revival, a performance immortalized on a cast recording released by Columbia Records (reissued on Sony Masterworks Broadway 72912). A season later, she appeared with the same company as Anna Maurrant in Weill’s Street Scene, a role she returned to in revivals throughout the 1960s. Howard Taubman of the New York Times described her Birdie as “affecting” and her Anna as “touching.”