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1951 - 1960


As Lenya recovers slowly from the shock of Weill's death, George Davis and many others encourage her to return to performing. She is reluctant, but builds a string of successes in the U.S. that push The Threepenny Opera and The Seven Deadly Sins into the repertory and make her a cult figure. She returns to Germany after twenty years in 1955 and makes a series of Weill recordings that do much to re-establish his reputation.

Read Text-Only Chronology
Read Text-Only Chronology


  • 3 February

    Performs in a "Kurt Weill Concert" at Town Hall in New York at George Davis’s urging

    The program is repeated 17 February at Town Hall and 31 March at the 92nd Street Y. She sings most of the female characters' musical numbers in a concert version of Die Dreigroschenoper. This is her first public performance since The Firebrand of Florence (and since Weill's death)

    • Town Hall window card (cropped)

    • Town Hall program cover

  • 6 February

    Lenya’s mother dies in Vienna

  • 7 July

    Marries George Davis in a civil ceremony

  • 31 October

    Plays Xantippe in the world premiere of Maxwell Anderson’s play Barefoot in Athens at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway

    As in Candle in the Wind (1941), Anderson has written a part expressly for her; other members of the creative team succeed in having her replaced during tryouts, but Anderson insists that she play the role on Broadway. This time, she draws praise from New York critics, but the show runs only 30 performances.

    • Lenya, Maxwell Anderson, and Helen Shields

    • Opening night program


  • 23 February

    Sings female characters’ musical numbers from Die Dreigroschenoper in a “revival” of the previous year’s Town Hall concert

  • 14 June

    Plays Jenny in a concert tryout of Marc Blitzstein’s English adaptation of Die Dreigroschenoper at Brandeis University, conducted by Leonard Bernstein

    This first performance of Blitzstein’s work provokes interest among producers and agents, but no one is willing to stage the piece without adapting the script or altering the score.

    • Leonard Bernstein (left) conducting Marc Blitzstein's adaptation of The Threepenny Opera in concert with Lenya (center) as Jenny

    • "Pirate Jenny"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya live in concert at Brandeis University, 1952

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    • Lenya as Jenny in the concert performance of Blitzstein's adaptation

    • Marc Blitzstein Introduces his Adaptation of The Threepenny Opera

      Brandeis University, 1952

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  • 22 March

    Discovers the body of Mab Anderson, wife of Maxwell Anderson, after she commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning

  • October

    Meets with two young producers, Carmen Capalbo and Stanley Chase, who want to stage The Threepenny Opera as written; after several meetings, Lenya and Blitzstein give their blessing

    Capalbo remembered later that he had to sing some of the songs to convince Lenya that he was the right person; he said, “I guess I'm the only director who ever had to do a singing audition to get the job.” He went on, “Lenya said, ‘Where did you learn to sing like that?’ I said, ‘From you.’ She said to Marc, ‘That's the man to do Threepenny Opera.’”


  • 10 March

    Plays Jenny in the stage premiere of Blitzstein’s adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the off-Broadway Theater de Lys, directed by Carmen Capalbo

    Initially she refuses to accept the role, but George Davis along with Blitzstein and Capalbo convince her otherwise. Several weeks later, MGM makes the original cast recording, an instant best-seller, and the show takes New York by storm. By the time it closes in November 1961, it has set a record (since broken) for the longest run of a musical.

    • Scott Merrill (Macheath) and Lenya (Jenny) in The Threepenny Opera, Theater de Lys, 1954

    • "Solomon Song"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya, 1954

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    • Cast recording cover released in 1954 by MGM Reocrds

    • Lenya gets ready for a performance in her dressing room

  • 20 July

    Plays Mrs. Carroll in The Two Mrs. Carrolls at Lakeside Summer Theatre in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., directed by Herbert Machiz

    She plays opposite her co-star in Threepenny, Scott Merrill.


  • 3 April

    Returns to Germany for the first time since 1934, where she and George Davis plan to research Weill’s life for a biography; Lenya also has recording projects that Davis has helped to line up, co-produced by Columbia (U.S.) and Philips (Germany)

    Lenya writes to a friend: “You can’t find a single Nazi in Germany! . . . It was all a dream.”

  • 7 July

    Completes the first in a series of recordings, Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill (released in the U.S. as Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theatre Songs)

  • 28 September

    Attends Louis Armstrong’s recording session for “Mack the Knife” for Columbia

    She and Armstrong do a take together, which is not released until 1982. Armstrong’s rendition is a hit and inaugurates a long string of successful pop recordings of “Mack the Knife."

    • Lenya and Louis Armstrong with the band during rehearsals for the recording of "Mack the Knife"

    • "Mack the Knife"

      Excerpt of Lenya and Armstrong singing a take together

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    • Rehearsal for "Mack the Knife"

      Armstrong coaching Lenya for the recording, 1955

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    • Armstrong and Lenya recording "Mack the Knife" for Columbia Records

  • 26 November

    Attends the European premiere of Street Scene in Düsseldorf, Germany, the first step in the prolonged process of gaining recognition for Weill’s American works in Europe

    The libretto is translated by Lys Symonette, Weill’s assistant on Broadway from 1945 to 1950. Symonette and her husband, baritone Randolph Symonette, remain close friends of Lenya until her death; Lys becomes indispensable in Lenya’s last years as accompanist, musical advisor, and factotum.


  • 1 April

    Wins Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in The Threepenny Opera; the production itself receives a special award

    It is the first and only time Tony Awards have been given for an off-Broadway production. Lenya leaves the cast around this time.

  • 14 August

    Lenya and Davis arrive in Germany the same day that Bertolt Brecht dies in Berlin

    During this trip to Germany, Lenya meets Anna Krebs of Philips Records, and the two become devoted friends.

  • 8 September

    Finishes recording Die sieben Todsünden for Columbia and Philips, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg

    Because of the changes to Lenya’s voice since 1933, all movements in which she sings must be transposed down a fourth. The work effectively disappeared shortly after its premiere; Lenya’s recording reintroduces it to audiences. Within ten years, it becomes a standard work both onstage and in the concert hall; now it is one of Weill and Brecht’s most popular.

    • Album jacket of Die sieben Todsünden for Philips

    • "Prologue"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya, 1956

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    • "Wrath"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya, 1956

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  • 11 November

    Completes recording of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, which also puts that work back on the map

  • 20 December

    British musicologist David Drew replies to George Davis to follow up on an earlier proposal to write a critical study of Weill’s oeuvre along with a biography

    The connection between Drew and Lenya is soon established and remains very close for nearly 20 years. Drew becomes indispensable to Lenya’s efforts to increase respect for Weill’s music and arrange further recordings and performances.

    • Lenya with David Drew at Brook House, late 1950's

    • Letter from Lenya to Drew, 1957


  • August

    Records September Song and Other American Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill for Columbia, conducted by Maurice Levine

  • 6 October

    Attends premiere of revival of Weill’s Die Bürgschaft at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, directed by Carl Ebert (who had directed the world premiere in 1932)

    Lenya and Davis meet David Drew in person for the first time.

  • 25 November

    George Davis dies of a heart attack in Berlin


  • 15 January

    Completes recording of Die Dreigroschenoper for Columbia/Philips, partly as a memorial for Davis, who worked hard to arrange her series of recordings

    • The album cover of the Philips/Columbia recording of Die Dreigroschenoper was designed by Ben Shahn

    • "Zuhälterballade"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya, 1958

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    • "Seeräuberjenny"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya, 1958

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  • 29 June

    Appears on “Camera 3” for CBS Television; she gives an interview and sings a few songs

  • August

    Records Invitation to German Poetry for Dover Records, reading German poems from the Middle Ages to the 20th century

    The poems are selected in part by Professor Guy Stern, who goes on to be a close friend for many years.

  • 4 December

    Plays Anna I in the premiere of The Seven Deadly Sins at the New York City Ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine

    Translation by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman; Allegra Kent plays Anna II (the dancing Anna). The first staged revival of the work since 1936 is reconceived by Balanchine. Lenya is lionized by the New York press.

    • George Balanchine (left), Edward Villella, and Lenya (right), prepare for the American premiere of The Seven Deadly Sins at the New York City Ballet, 1958

    • Lenya (Anna I) snaps Allegra Kent's (Anna II) picture, New York City Ballet production

    • Interview with Lenya

      Lenya talks about the 1958 New York City Ballet production of The Seven Deadly Sins, 1970

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  • 15 February

    Gives first recital at Carnegie Hall

    A program of songs with orchestra in the first half, including songs from Weill’s German and American shows and three of his four Walt Whitman settings, and Die Dreigroschenoper (with other singers) in the second. Maurice Levine conducts. As with nearly all of Lenya’s concerts, she performs with orchestra, her consistent preference.

    • In the 1970s, Richard Ely created a retrospective poster for Lenya's Carnegie Hall appearance

    • Rehearsal for Carnegie Hall concert. From left: Maurice Edwards, Polyna Stoska, Didi Van Eyck, Ludwig Donath, Lenya, and conductor Maurice Levine

    • Program for the concert

  • Summer

    Records seven stories of Franz Kafka in English for Caedmon Records

  • 11 November

    Reads four poems of Friedrich Schiller at Town Hall in New York, part of a “Schiller-Festabend"


  • 7 February

    Performs again at Carnegie Hall, with nearly the same program and cast as in the previous year

  • April - August

    Travels to Germany to perform Die sieben Todsünden in Frankfurt (the German premiere), choreographed by Tatjana Gsovsky

    She also gives a concert in Munich, appears on a television program with Theodor Adorno, and records Happy End for Columbia/Philips.

    • Lenya with Karin von Aroldingen (Anna II) in the German stage premiere of Die sieben Todsünden, 1960

    • The Frankfurt production made use of a chalkboard to record the name of each sin, here "Envy"

    • "Die Ballade von der Höllen-Lili"

      Excerpt sung by Lenya in Munich, 1960

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  • August

    Rents an apartment at 404 E. 55 Street which she keeps for the rest of her life

  • 18 October

    Plays Jenny in a Los Angeles revival of The Threepenny Opera at the Music Box Theatre in Los Angeles

    Several members of the original New York cast take part in the production; Lenya remains in the cast for about a month. While in Los Angeles, she receives a letter from Bertha Case, the U.S. agent for the Brecht estate, and begins a close relationship with her.

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