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1970 - 1981

Passing the Torch

Lenya continues to perform, although injuries and declining health start to catch up with her by the middle of the decade. She maintains a firm hand on Weill's music, publicly recognizing soprano Teresa Stratas as a model interpreter and reorganizing the Kurt Weill Foundation shortly before her death.

Read Text-Only Chronology
Read Text-Only Chronology


  • Spring

    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

    Tapes interview with Edwin Newman for NBC Television, broadcast later that month

  • 30 December

    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

    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

    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.

    • Lenya as narrator in a concert performance of Der Silbersee with Mary Lindsey (Fennimore)

    • Scene from Der Silbersee

      Holland Festival, 1971

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  • 17 - 27 November

    Plays Mother Courage in Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by Herbert Machiz, at the University of California-Irvine


  • 14 - 22 April

    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

    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.


  • 20 May

    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

    Broadcast of television play, Trio for Lovers, part of the Daytime 90 series on CBS

    Lenya plays Rosa Harcourt, owner of a music shop.

    • Sidney Walker and Lenya in the television drama Trio for Lovers on CBS

    • Scene from Trio for Lovers

      Lenya plays opposite Sidney Walker, 1974

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  • March

    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

    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.

    • "Bilbao-Song"

      Clip from The Dick Cavett Show, 1975

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    • Lenya and Dick Cavett, 1975

  • Summer

    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

    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

    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 manuscript orchestral score of Die sieben Todsünden to the Library.

    • Gallery entrance of the exhibition "Weill-Lenya"

    • Lenya with an old friend, photographer and designer S. Neil Fujita

    • Lenya next to her wedding photo


  • March

    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.

    • Lenya as Dr. Clara Pelf works on Burt Reynolds in a scene from the film Semi-Tough

    • Lenya examines the patient

  • November

    Diagnosed with ovarian cancer; she undergoes a hysterectomy the following month


  • Summer

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

  • 25 October

    Attends a concert of Weill’s orchestral music at Lincoln Center in celebration of her 80th birthday

  • 12 November

    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

    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 an emphasis on Kurt Weill.

    Lenya gives a number of interviews during her last years.


  • Autumn

    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.

    • Soprano Teresa Stratas with Lenya, 1980, at a concert of unknown Weill songs at the Whitney Museum

    • "Nanna's Lied"

      Excerpt sung by Teresa Stratas for the landmark album The Unknown Kurt Weill; Nonesuch Records, 1981

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  • 18 November

    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

    Accepts a tribute from the State Senate of Michigan and visits her old friend Guy Stern at Wayne State University in Detroit


  • 2 April

    Attends her last meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation

    After the reorganization, the trustees and officers now include Kim Kowalke, Henry Marx, Harold Prince, Julius Rudel, Guy Stern, and Lys Symonette.

  • 1 July

    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

    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

    Dies at the age of 83; buried next to Weill on 1 December

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