Lotte Lenya

Last updated
Lotte Lenya
Lotte Lenya.jpg
photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1962
Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer

(1898-10-18)18 October 1898
Died27 November 1981(1981-11-27) (aged 83)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1922–1981
    (m. 1926;div. 1933)

    (m. 1937;died 1950)
      (m. 1951;died 1957)
        Russell Detwiler
        (m. 1962;died 1969)

Lotte Lenya (born Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer; 18 October 1898 – 27 November 1981) was an Austrian-American singer, diseuse, [1] and actress, long based in the United States. [2] In the German-speaking and classical music world, she is best remembered for her performances of the songs of her first husband, Kurt Weill. In English-language cinema, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as a jaded aristocrat in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961). She also played the murderous and sadistic Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963).


Early career

In 1922, Lenya was seen by her future husband, German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill, during an audition for his first stage score Zaubernacht, but because of his position behind the piano, she did not see him. She was cast, but owing to her loyalty to her voice coach, she declined the role. She accepted the part of Jenny in the first performance of The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) in 1928, and the part became her breakthrough role. During the last years of the Weimar Republic, she was busy in film and theatre, and especially in Brecht-Weill plays. She made several recordings of Weill's songs. [3] [Note 1]

With the rise of Nazism in Germany, many artists were not appreciated, and although not Jewish, she left the country, having become estranged from Weill. (They would later divorce and remarry.) In March 1933, she moved to Paris, where she sang the leading part in Brecht-Weill's "sung ballet", The Seven Deadly Sins . [ citation needed ]

Lenya and Weill settled in New York City on 10 September 1935. [5] During the summer of 1936, Weill, Lenya, Paul Green, and Cheryl Crawford rented a house at 277 Trumbull Avenue in Nichols, Connecticut, about 2 miles from Pine Brook Country Club, the summer rehearsal headquarters of the Group Theatre. [6] [7] Here, Green and Weill wrote the screenplay and music for the controversial Broadway play Johnny Johnson , which was titled after the most frequently occurring name on the American casualty list of World War I. During this period, Lenya had a love affair with playwright Paul Green. [8] [9]

During World War II, Lenya did a number of stage performances, recordings, and radio performances, including for the Voice of America. After a badly received part in her husband's musical The Firebrand of Florence in 1945 in New York, she withdrew from the stage. [10] After Weill's death in 1950, she was coaxed back to the stage. She appeared on Broadway in Barefoot in Athens and married editor George Davis. [10]

Late career

In 1956, she won a Tony Award for her role as Jenny in Marc Blitzstein's English version of The Threepenny Opera, the only time an off-Broadway performance has been so honored. Lenya went on to record a number of songs from her time in Berlin, as well as songs from the American stage. Her voice had deepened with age. When she was to sing the soprano part in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and The Seven Deadly Sins , the part needed transposition to substantially lower keys. [10]

Sprechstimme was used in some famous songs in the Brecht-Weill plays, but now Lenya used it even more to compensate for the shortcomings of her voice. Lenya was aware of this as a problem; in other contexts, she was very careful about fully respecting her late husband's score. [10] [11] [12]

She founded the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, [13] to administer incomes and issues regarding rights, and to spread knowledge about Weill's work. [12] She was present in the studio when Louis Armstrong recorded Brecht-Weill's "Mack the Knife". Armstrong improvised the line "Look out for Miss Lotte Lenya!" and added her name to the list of Mack's female conquests in the song.[ citation needed ]

Her role as Vivien Leigh's earthy friend Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales in the screen version of Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) brought Lenya Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as Best Supporting Actress. [14] In 1963, she was cast as the SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love starring Sean Connery and Robert Shaw. [14]

In 1966, Lenya originated the role of Fräulein Schneider in the original Broadway cast of the musical Cabaret . [11] [15] Kander and Ebb's score was considered by some to be inspired by Weill's music. In 1979, two years before her death, Lotte Lenya was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. [16]

Personal life

Lenya was born to Catholic working-class parents in Vienna. [17] She went to Zürich to study in 1914, taking her first job at the Schauspielhaus, using the stage name Lotte Lenja. She moved to Berlin to seek work in 1921. [ citation needed ]

Lenya and Weill did not meet properly until 1924 through a mutual acquaintance, the writer Georg Kaiser. They married in 1926, and later divorced in 1933, only to reconcile in September 1935 after emigrating to the United States. They remarried in 1937. In 1941, the couple moved to a house of their own in New City, New York, roughly 50 km north of New York City. Their second marriage lasted until Weill's death in 1950. [11]

Lenya's second husband (1951–57) was American editor George Davis. After Davis' death in 1957, she married artist Russell Detwiler in 1962. He was 26 years her junior, but she was widowed for a third time when Detwiler died at the age of 44 in 1969. [11]


Lenya died in Manhattan of cancer in 1981, aged 83. She is buried next to Weill at Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw, New York. [12]


In 1956, Louis Armstrong recorded the song "Mack the Knife", both as a solo number and as a duet with Lenya. Armstrong added Lenya's name into the lyrics, in place of one of the characters in the play.[ citation needed ] Bobby Darin's 1959 hit recording of the song used these updated lyrics mentioning Lenya.

Donovan's 1968 song "Laléna" was inspired by Lenya. [18]

The Michael Kunze play, Lenya, is about Brecht's favorite singer, Lotte Lenya. [19]

In 2007, the musical LoveMusik , based on Lenya's relationship with Weill, opened on Broadway. Lenya was portrayed by Donna Murphy. [15]

She is mentioned in the Fascinating Aïda song "Lieder", which originally described her as German, but was corrected for later performances. [ citation needed ] She is referenced in the Gavin Friday song "Dolls" from his 1995 album Shag Tobacco . [20]

The Lotte Lenya Competition recognizes young singers and actors who are dramatically and musically convincing in repertoire ranging from opera and operetta to contemporary Broadway scores, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. [21] [22]


1931 The Threepenny Opera Jenny Diver
1961 The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales
1963 From Russia with Love Rosa Klebb
1965 Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder Mother CourageTV movie
1966 Ten Blocks on the Camino Real The GypsyTV movie
1969 The Appointment Emma Valadier
1977 Semi-Tough Clara Pelf
1980MahagonnyVoice, (final film role)

See also


  1. Recorded "Six Songs by Kurt Weill" (1943) for Bost Records (BA 8) in New York. In 1944, she recorded two of Weill's songs for the U.S. Office of War Information for use in radio broadcasts to Germany: "Wie lange noch" with lyrics by Walter Mehring and "Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib". Records "'The Threepenny Opera" (1954 New York cast) (Blitzstein adaptation) MGM Records (E3121) released in July 1954. Records "Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill" (1955) in Hamburg for Philips (B 07 039); released in the U.S. by Columbia (ML 5056) in November 1955 as "Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theater Songs of Kurt Weill". In 1956, records "Die sieben Todsünden"(The Seven Deadly Sins) for Philips (B 07 186) in Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg; Columbia releases the recording in the U.S. (KL 5175) in March 1957. In 1956, she recorded "Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny" ("Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny") for Philips (L 09 418-20) and Columbia (K3L 243) in Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. In 1957, records "September Song and Other American Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill" for Columbia (KL 5229), conducted by Maurice Levine; it is released in February 1958. In 1958, records "Die Dreigroschenoper" ("The Threepenny Opera") for Philips (L 09 421-22) and Columbia (O2L 257), conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. In 1960 records "Happy End" for Philips (B 47 080 L) in Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. The Columbia (OL 5630) issue released in the U.S. in 1964. [4]

Related Research Articles

<i>Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny</i> Political-satirical opera composed by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is a political-satirical opera composed by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht. It was first performed on 9 March 1930 at the Neues Theater in Leipzig.

<i>The Threepenny Opera</i> 1928 musical play by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill

The Threepenny Opera is a "play with music" by Bertolt Brecht, adapted from a translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann of John Gay's 18th-century English ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera, and four ballads by François Villon, with music by Kurt Weill. Although there is debate as to how much, if any, Hauptmann might have contributed to the text, Brecht is usually listed as sole author.

Kurt Weill German composer

Kurt Julian Weill was a German composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. With Brecht, he developed productions such as his best-known work The Threepenny Opera, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife". Weill held the ideal of writing music that served a socially useful purpose. He also wrote several works for the concert hall. He became a United States citizen on August 27, 1943.

"Mack the Knife" or "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera. The song has become a popular standard recorded by many artists, including a US and UK number one hit for Bobby Darin in 1959.

Teresa Stratas, OC, is a retired operatic soprano from Canada of Greek descent. She is especially well known for her award-winning recording of Alban Berg's Lulu.

The "Alabama Song"—also known as "Moon of Alabama", "Moon over Alabama", and "Whisky Bar"—is an English version of a song written by Bertolt Brecht and translated from German by his close collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1925 and set to music by Kurt Weill for the 1927 play Little Mahagonny. It was reused for the 1930 opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and has been recorded by the Doors and David Bowie.

<i>The Seven Deadly Sins</i> (ballet chanté)

The Seven Deadly Sins is a satirical ballet chanté in seven scenes composed by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht in 1933 under a commission from Boris Kochno and Edward James. It was translated into English by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. It was the last major collaboration between Weill and Brecht.

<i>Happy End</i> (musical)

Happy End is a three-act musical comedy by Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Hauptmann, and Bertolt Brecht which first opened in Berlin at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm on September 2, 1929. It closed after seven performances. In 1977 it premiered on Broadway, where it ran for 75 performances.

<i>LoveMusik</i> musical

LoveMusik is a musical written by Alfred Uhry, using a selection of music by Kurt Weill. The story explores the romance and lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, based on Speak Low : The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, edited and translated by Lys Symonette & Kim H. Kowalke. Harold Prince had read Speak Low and suggested the idea for a musical to Uhry. Uhry and Prince worked on LoveMusik for four years to develop it into a stage work. The story spans over 25 years, from the first meeting of Lenya and Weill as struggling young artists, to their popularity in Europe and America, to Weill's death from a heart attack at age 50.


Mahagonny-Songspiel, also known as The Little Mahagonny, is a "small-scale 'scenic cantata'" written by the composer Kurt Weill and the dramatist Bertolt Brecht in 1927. Weill was commissioned in the spring to write one of a series of very short operas for performance that summer, and he chose to use the opportunity to create a "stylistic exercise" as preparation for a larger-scale project that they had begun to develop together, their experimental 'epic opera' The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930).

Caspar Neher was an Austrian-German scenographer and librettist, known principally for his career-long working relationship with Bertolt Brecht.

"When the Ship Comes In" is a folk music song by Bob Dylan, released on his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin', in 1964.

"Pirate Jenny" is a well-known song from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. The English lyrics are by Marc Blitzstein. It is probably the second most famous song in the opera, after "Mack the Knife".

<i>The Threepenny Opera</i> (film)

The Threepenny Opera is a 1931 German musical film directed by G. W. Pabst. It was produced by Seymour Nebenzal's Nero-Film for Tonbild-Syndikat AG (Tobis), Berlin and Warner Bros. Pictures GmbH, Berlin. The film is loosely based on the 1928 musical theatre success The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. As was usual in the early sound film era, Pabst also directed a French language version of the film, L'Opéra de quat'sous, with some variation of plot details. A planned English version was not made. The two existing versions were released by The Criterion Collection on home video.

"Laléna" is the title of a composition by Donovan for whom it was a Top 40 single in the autumn of 1968, reaching #33 on the Hot 100 in Billboard.

<i>20th Century Blues</i> (Marianne Faithfull album) 1997 live album by Marianne Faithfull

20th Century Blues is a live 1996 album by British singer-actress Marianne Faithfull, in collaboration with pianist Paul Trueblood.

"What Keeps Mankind Alive?" is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama The Threepenny Opera which premiered in Berlin in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The title refers to the central line from the finale of act 2, Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?. In the opera, the two stanzas of the strophic piece are sung by Macheath and Mrs Peachum and the final line is sung in fortissimo by the chorus.

<i>André Previn and J. J. Johnson</i> 1962 studio album by André Previn and J. J. Johnson

André Previn and J. J. Johnson is an album by pianist André Previn and trombonist J. J. Johnson performing Kurt Weill's compositions which was released on the Columbia label.

Bertlies "Lys" Symonette was a German-American pianist, chorus singer and musical stage performer. In 1945 she took a job as rehearsal pianist, coach, understudy or multi-tasking "swing-girl" for The Firebrand of Florence, a Kurt Weill musical making its Broadway debut. This proved to be the start of a new career as Weill's musical assistant: from that point a principal focus of her professional life was on the composer and, more particularly after his early death in 1950, the career of his widow, the stage performer Lotte Lenya. When Lenya died, in 1981, Lys Symonette was appointed vice-president of the Kurt Weill Foundation, also serving as its "musical executive". When she died her friend and frequent collaborator, Prof. Kim H. Kowalke, published an affectionate tribute in which he described her as "the last and irreplaceable link to the inner artistic circle of Weill and Lenya".

<i>Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill</i>

Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill is a musical revue with a book by Gene Lerner, music by Kurt Weill, and lyrics by various songwriting partners Weill worked with over his career. The plot follows Weill's life as he begins his career in Germany writing the music for controversial musicals, through his journey fleeing Nazi persecution, immigrating to the United States, and becoming successful on Broadway. Songs featured include those Weill collaborated on with Maxwell Anderson, Marc Blitzstein, Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Deval, Michael Feingold, Ira Gershwin, Paul Green, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Ogden Nash, George Tabori and Arnold Weinstein.


  1. Biography of Kurt Weill, Pickford Prod., Inc (unpublished biography 20 April 1945) Yale Music Library
  2. Obituary Variety , December 2, 1981.
  3. "Lotte Lenya discography". Kurt Weill Foundation. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  4. "Lotte Lenya: A Detailed Chronology 1950–1959". Kurt Weill Foundation. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  5. Jackson, Kenneth T. (1995). The Encyclopedia of New York City . The New York Historical Society; Yale University Press. p.  1252. ISBN   0-300-05536-6.
  6. "Pinewood Lake website retrieved 10 September 2010". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  7. Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  8. Speak Low (when you speak of love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
  9. A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916–1982, p. 258
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Lotte Lenya biography". Kurt Weill Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 April 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  11. 1 2 3 4 "Lotte Lenya: A Detailed Chronology 1960–1969". Kurt Weill Foundation. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  12. 1 2 3 "Lotte Lenya: A Detailed Chronology 1970–1981". Kurt Weill Foundation. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  13. "Kurt Weill Foundation for Music". Kurt Weill Foundation. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  14. 1 2 Lotte Lenya on IMDb
  15. 1 2 Lotte Lenya at the Internet Broadway Database
  16. "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  17. Profile of Lenya/Weill,, 6 January 2013; accessed 10 June 2014.
  18. Greenwald, Matthew. "Lalena". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  19. "Michael Kunze: Leyna". Archived from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  20. "Shag Tobacco – Lyrics".
  21. "The Kurt Weil Foundation For Music Announces 2020 Lotte Lenya Competition Semi-Finalists". Opera Wire. 2020-02-14. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  22. "The Lotte Lenya Competition". Retrieved 2020-09-25.