United Kingdom Ute Lemper : Last Tango In Berlin, Ute Lemper (vocals), Vana Gierig (piano), Marcelo Nisinman (bandoneón),Royal Northern College of Music Theatre, Manchester –3. 5. 2012 (MC)
There are few better artistes on the stage today that can hold an audience in the palm of their hands than German chanteuse Ute Lemper. A packed audience at the Royal Northern College of Music’s Theatre sat enthralled under the spell cast by this exceptionally talented cabaret singer. Like many in the audience I became captivated by Ute Lemper in the late 1980s with her recordings of German cabaret songs from the Weill-Brecht era. Seeing her live in concert was like fulfilling a long-held ambition in the manner of a ‘bucket list’ of things to do before one dies.
Only a few weeks ago the New York-based Lemper had been touring North America promoting her new release ‘Paris Days, Berlin Nights’ with the Vogler Quartet and the multi-talented instrumentalist and arranger Stefan Malzew. Here in Manchester Lemper was accompanied more intimately by just two instrumentalists, pianist Vana Gierig and the renowned bandoneón exponent, Marcelo Nisinman. Dressed in a slinky black pleated evening dress Lemper looked as wicked as she sounded. With her flowing and sensual dance moves ramping up the steamy sex appeal it’s easy to see that the Münster-born temptress is also a film actress. It was not difficult to imagine the bawdy smoke-filled cabaret rooms of 1920/30s Berlin. At one point Vana Gierig put the piano lid down for Lemper to sprawl across it seductively. It was a testament to Lemper’s performing skills that throughout the whole show the only props she employed were a feather boa and a bowler hat. Lemper used the red feather boa to show her comic side explaining how the boa (representing an amorous love token) had been passed around provocatively from Helmut Kohl to Margaret Thatcher to Angela Merkel to Nicolas Sarkozy to Carla Bruni to Cherie Blair and on to Samantha Cameron. At one point Lemper came down from the stage and singled out a guy in the front row for some spicy teasing. She pursed her lips to his neck singing, “Have you ever been bitten by a German? Don’t worry you won’t turn into one.”
I enjoyed how Lemper’s programme of songs loosely tracked Berlin history from the decadent songs of the Weimar Republic, through the rule of the Nazis and on to the erection and fall of the Berlin Wall. But there were some detours along the way as Lemper journeyed to the seedy quarters of Paris and then to the backstreet bordellos of late-night Buenos Aires. Sometimes she sang a song in its original language, as in the Jacques Brel numbers, Ne me quitte pas and Dans le port d’Amsterdam, and Piazzolla and Ferrer’s Yo soy Maria from the tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires. As a multilingual artiste it was not surprising for Lemper to switch language mid-song. One gets a strong sense that Lemper not only performs her songs, she virtually lives them.
Commencing the show with her own song Blood and Feathers,virtually all Lemper’s best known songs were performed, including Weill and Brecht’s Bilbao Song and Surabaya Johnny, Lili marlene bySchultze and Leip, I Am a Vamp! by Klein, Spoliansky and Schiffer and They Call Me Naughty Lola by Hollaender. A couple of songs I didn’t recognise, one with the words I am Crazy, Loony Mad and a Cold War reminder titled 10260 days – 10260 nights referring to the length of time the Berlin Wall divided Germany. After Naughty Lola Marcelo Nisinman gave a simply magnificent bandoneón solo, an arrangement that reminded me of Piazzolla’s Libertango.
For an encore Lemper provided a medley of more popular hits including Alabama Song from Mahagonny and Mack the Knife from The Threepenny Opera both by Weill and Brecht followed by All That Jazz from the Kander, Ebb and Fosse musical Chicago and Life is a Cabaret from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Looking at the excitable reaction of many audience members someone should bottle Ute Lemper and the bandoneón as the world’s finest aphrodisiac.