Ghosts of Weimar Past opens with Mischa Spoliansky’s evocative, instrumental “Morphium”, an excellent choice.
Classically trained Mezzo Artemesia Le Fay then commandeers the stage with Spoliansky’s “Das Lilalied” (The Lavender Song). The vocalist has a powerful, well modulated voice and confident presence. She’s appropriately costumed and made up. “Picture this, a city where the decadent dares to dance with the disgusting…In 1919, The Institute for Sexual Science* declared acts of homosexuality should no longer be regulated by the state…”
“Peter, Peter, Komm Zu Mir Zurück” (Friedrich Hollaender), in German, is “about a humble girl lamenting having mistreated her man:” “How could a man get me so intoxicated?/How did I commit the delusion/To trade my good Peter/Who never did anything to me…” Part parlando, part vocal, the song has wonderful lyrics unknown to the audience because none are presented in English. The familiar “Pirate Jenny” (Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht – The Threepenny Opera) is performed with unnecessary exaggeration, as if a silent movie actress.
Here’s the rub. Le Fay’s reason for gravitating to the era/material, “I like it,” is flimsy. Either her research is light or it’s poorly expressed. She’s sadly correct in recognizing we live in fascist-leaning times and that many of these lyric sentiments could be contemporary, yet only once refers to gay politics and once to persecution of the Jews – noting that “bad people” ?! were following Hollaender, minimization to the extreme.
This is not to say the artist is untalented or that she doesn’t get it intermittently, instinctively right. Weill’s “Je Ne T’Aime Pas”(“I Love You Not”), in French, arrives sincere. A warble at the back of Le Fay’s throat enhances. We feel the character’s disdain. Hollaender’s “Ich Weiß Nicht Zu Wem Ich Gehöre” (“I Know Not to Whom I Belong”) is better still: “When men talk about being faithful/I just smile to myself/Love is the ever new thing/Being faithful makes no sense at all.” Again, terrific lyrics, but only in German, i.e. unshared. At least explain what the song is saying.
The inclusion of John Kander/Fred Ebb’s “I Don’t Care Much” from the musical Cabaret, apparently inspiration for this show, is fitting. Here’s a perfect opportunity to take performance down a notch – everything is at the same level. The song is about being so beaten down, one feels numb, something that doesn’t come across: “Words sound false, when your coat’s too thin/Feet don’t waltz, when the roof caves in./So if you kiss me, if we touch/Warning’s fair, I don’t care very much.”
Spoliansky’s “Alles Schwindel” (“It’s All a Swindle”) is a perfect example of Weimar Kabaret, a bright and brassy tune paired with satirical/fatalistic lyrics. The artist’s animation is pitch perfect.
Where is the director here? In order for the work to be fully potent, an aura of gravity must be sustained. Where is exhaustion, defiance, bitterness? Bouncing out of character with repeated references to hydrating breaks mood. This should be a much darker show. That the artist conveys some of it really well, is clearly invested, and possesses a superb voice, especially for these well chosen songs, makes one hope for some revision. The time is right; Artemesia Le Fay has the chops.
*Established by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919 Berlin, The Institute for Sexual Science offered counseling and treatment for “physical and psychological sexual disorders” as well as, in particular, for “sexual transitions”, Hirschfeld’s term for homosexuals, transvestites and hermaphrodites. Ahead of its time, it acknowledged sexual disparity and promoted acceptance rather than conversion. The Jewish Institute was condemned and destroyed by the Nazis.
Photos Courtesy of the Performer
Ghosts of Weimar Past
Artemesia Le Fay
Violist Alexia del Giudice, pianist Renee Guerrero
The show will be repeated in matinee June 27, 2021
Don’t Tell Mama