Musical journey through the streets of Paris and Berlin with Ute Lemper

At first I was quite suspicious of the «Ute Lemper phenomenon,» when I read articles that described her as a wonderful interpreter, an excellent dancer and a brilliant actress. That was until I saw her perform at the Herod Atticus Theater a few years ago where I was enthralled by her great conduct, her expressiveness, her ease and grace as well as her communication skills that captivated the entire audience. I don’t think there was one person that wasn’t taken by her that evening. Later I looked into her recordings and came across gems like her tributes to Kurt Weill, the album «Illusions» for her two great loves, Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich, as well as «Punishing Kiss,» where she sings songs that were written for her by Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Scott Walker and Elvis Costello. I also noticed her takes on acting, the most notable moments being in Peter Greenaway’s «Prospero’s Books» and Robert Altman’s «Pret-a-Porter.» The 45-year-old German artist returns to Greece with the program «Angels over Berlin and Paris,» which she will present at the Athens Concert Hall on February 11 and 12. She talked to Kathimerini about her upcoming performances. «It is a new production I have made especially for the Greek public. I am trying to continue from where I left off. It is a journey in space and time. I will wander through old and modern Paris, through the streets of Edith Piaf and through Berlin at the time of the Cold War, at the time of division and reunion, in the Berlin of Marlene Dietrich. I will also present some of my work in between great songs, it will be my look at these two cities that have left their mark on me.» Lemper is a fearless performer. She has tackled demanding songs by Kurt Weill, Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prevert, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach, Jacques Brel, Hanns Eisler and, of course, Edith Piaf. «I like breathing fresh air into old songs,» she said. «I try to approach them realistically and not romantically, because the artists who gave great interpretations had experienced all that the verses describe. They lived through war, violence, the weakness of happiness, death and the search for love. They sang about life, after life itself had crushed them. I am often asked if our era can create such great performers. My answer is that anybody who is politically alive, who is angered or saddened by current events, can get up on stage and sing about all the non-privileged people, those who struggle to live.» When asked what makes her angry, she replied that the list is very long. «We could talk for hours. People have always been in danger, we have always had terrorism and there was no time when a war didn’t start in the name of religion. The difference is that today people are more polluted and I am not referring to the environment, I am talking about people’s ‘polluted’ souls.» The past few years, Lemper has become a New Yorker. She lives there with her three children, spends a lot of time reading and listens to music ranging from Tom Waits’s early recordings to Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello. She talks passionately about the need for change in American politics and she is worried about the religious extremism of a segment of fanatic Christians in the US. She becomes optimistic with her children, especially her youngest, a 2-year-old boy, and is writing music and lyrics for her new album set for release in the next few months. «I have been working on that album for two-and-a-half years,» she said. «It is my poetical observation on the world and I want people to listen to it as a complete story. I would like to point this out, because most of us now buy specific songs from iTunes; few are interested in concept albums these days.» Those lucky enough to see Lemper in the role of Velma Kelly in «Chicago» or that of Sally Bowles in «Cabaret,» for which she won the Laurence Olivier Award and the Moliere Award respectively, may well wonder why she does not do musicals more often. «I am not interested. Broadway has become like Disneyland. There are only a few shows that are really worthwhile, the rest is just a tourist attraction.» She wasn’t too optimistic about the infamous Berlin cabaret either. «The city is no longer ‘exotic’ in the sense of all those fringe groups that breathed life into the cabaret scene. Today’s Berlin is glamorous. It is not suitable for authentic cabaret, but has an amazing theater scene.»