The $1.97 CD Review – The 7 Deadly Sins (Lenya / Katona / Bruckner-Ruggeberg)


I wonder if that title got your attention ? If it was someone else’s blog, it sure would have got mine.  Let me explain….

For a while now, partly because I am a Ute Lemper fan and partly because the music of the time is fascinating, the music and lyrics of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht have been an interest. The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny are the obvious works from that amazing collaboration but a work less well known but equally fascinating is The 7 Deadly Sins (of the petit bourgeoisie) (Die 7 Todsunden [Der Kleinburger] to be utterly precise).

How do I sum up the plot for those who don’t know it ? This is tricky. There are two Annas, depicting the rational side and the emotional side of the same person.  Anna goes to the US to fulfil the family dream of owning a house near the Mississippi.  Anna has allowed seven years for this to happen, seven year over which time her egos have balance between the virtuous and sinful in behaviour. Somehow, the sins are also said to be virtues.  That’s how it goes.

Written (in only 14 days) as a ballet with song in one prologue and seven scenes, it was premiered in 1933 in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysees.  While the commission came from Boris Kochno and Edward James, they knew that it would be written to include Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya in one of the title roles (Jenny 1). Because the work was written and sung in German, it reportedly bewildered the French audiences but the work was performed not long after in London under a different title.

This CD is not, of course, a recording of that performance. Aficionados will have already worked out that this recording was made in 1956 and the clue to that lies in the conductor Wilhelm Bruckner-Ruggeberg who transposed the vocal score by a fourth to allow Lenya to reprise her role as Anna 1 in a lower register reflecting her voice at the time.

The recording is endlessly fascinating even for those who have heard these songs before in other recordings. Notables who have recorded the same include Teresa Stratas and Marianne Faithfull who had the songs transposed even lower to accommodate her vocal range. But this recording must surely surpass them all. The interpretation is both unique and definitive at the same time – certainly you can tell from Lenya’s familiarity of the repertoire that her songs were written with her in mind.  The rest of the cast  or “Family” (Julius Katona, Fritz Gollnitz, Siegmund Roth and Ernst Poettgen) are wonderfully wry and dry as befits the text. It really is hard to imagine these songs done any other way by anyone else.

An absolute bargain for the princely sum of $1.97. If you are lucky, there are still copies left at various branches of The Warehouse. You won’t regret getting it and if you are not familiar with this genre of music, what an amazing introduction to a piece of musical and thematic history !

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About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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