I watched a recital online by Kate Lindsey and Baptiste Trotignon, done at La Scala. Kurt Weill was the center of the program, and they filled it out with Korngold, Alma Mahler, and Zemlinsky. My only previous experience with Lindsey was when I saw her playing Nero in the Met’s *Agrippina* a year before. She was wonderful in that and I’m wild for Weill (ha ha), so I was looking forward to this.
They opened with my favorite Weill song, “Nanna’s Lied,” a brilliant song that has more than a hint of Schubert, but with the Weimar Weltschmertz that we’ve come to expect from Weill. I wasn’t sure I liked what Lindsey did with it, I thought she was whispering a little too much, going a little too far in the realm of cabaret when this song, with the Schubert flavor, could be sung in a more straightforward way and be more effective for the restraint. Likewise, I wasn’t sure I liked Trotignon’s jazzy interpolations. Of course they have any right to do what they want with these songs, I’m all for putting your personal stamp on something that’s been done thousands of times before, but it’s my choice whether or not I like it!
Next they did “Thousands of Miles” and “Big Mole” from *Lost in the Stars.* I liked these better probably because I’d never heard them before and could take them at face value.
They did an aria from *Augstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny,* “Denn wie man sich bettet.” It’s written for a soprano, with a couple of stunning high As. But since Lindsey is a mezzo, they took it down quite a lot. Jeez, I used the pitch pipe app on my phone, and they didn’t change the key, they took it down a full octave! This complete rehaul put the aria in such a new context that I was able to hear it in a new way and really loved the fresh interpretation.
The first non-Weill song was Korngold’s “Schneeglöckchen.” This is the first time we heard Lindsey really singing like a classical singer, her voice was warm, lustrous, smooth, delicious. We heard more along these lines in Zemlinsky’s “Und hat der Tag all seine Qual.” Such a beautiful moonlit song, I don’t think I’d heard it before. It made me think of Richard Strauss or Joseph Marx, it had that German glamour that serves a singer and pianist so well. It certainly served these two very well indeed, it was a highlight of the performance.
Oh, look! They recorded it on a record album! Remember those?
The next set consisted of songs from Weill’s Broadway period. Lindsey said in her introductory comments that when he moved to the US, he wanted to be adopted as a Broadway composer, he wanted to be part of that heritage. She feels that he smoothed off some of the edges from his German work with Brecht and others. The set opened with some video footage of La Scala. What a gorgeous opera house, but how strange seeing it empty.
She sang “Buddy on the Nightshift,” for which Trotignon wrote a rippling piano part that I didn’t really care for. It ain’t Fauré, honey, it’s a cute, silly little song written for *The Lunch Hours Follies.* But I did like his bustling interlude into the next song, “Berlin im Licht.” It appears that Trotignon played the original piano part, and Lindsey sounded fantastic, she had the ideal mix of legit classical production and flavorful cabaret style.
Next, “Don’t Look Now” from *One Touch of Venus.* I know this song as “My Foolish Heart,” it was nice hearing it with different lyrics. I was covered with chills, Lindsey’s singing was so gorgeous and meaningful, and Trotignon played with such panache. He put a dazzling jazzy interlude between verses in this song. There are few things I love more than a jazz waltz, so he was totally turning my crank.
“The Saga of Jenny” from *Lady in the Dark,* such a hilarious song. Her delivery was full of moxie and show biz no-how. Another jazzy interlude from Trotignon, this guy was putting it over.
Lindsey left the stage to Trotignon and he played a marvelous smoky nightclub arrangement of “September Song” from *Knickerbocker Holiday.* I want to be in that nightclub! But please hold the smoke.
Lindsey returned to the stage and they did “Die stille Stadt” by Alma Mahler. She’s best known as the wife of Gustav Mahler but her own music has been getting some notice over the last thirty years or so. The song was fantastic. It started with a fairly straightforward harmonic language but gradually developed into something more elaborate and unexpected. This song could totally hold its own with other songs in the Lieder tradition. Her song “Hymne” had a more showy vocal line, and Lindsey sang it with drive and skill. Trotignon was the perfect partner for her, it’s clear they have a wonderful collaboration.
They ended with more Weill capped off with a bit of Zemlinsky. First, they combined two songs from *Threepenny Opera,* “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song.” Trotignon did the arrangements, he stitched the two songs together in a fascinating way and added some tasty harmonies and impressive moments for the piano.
“Je ne t’aime pas” is a fabulous song but I didn’t care for Lindsey’s performance of it, she was too loose and free with the rhythm. The song itself is so strong it doesn’t need the over-the-top Streisand treatment. Please don’t tell Miss Streisand that I said this. Trotignon’s playing was sensational. Maybe it’s because the song was in French, but his playing brought to mind Michel Legrand.
They did “Lonely House” and “We’ll Go Away Together” from Weill’s *Street Scene.* Lindsey was back in Streisand mode in “Lonely House,” but it made more sense because Trotignon gave the song a low-down, jazzy vibe. Streisand could have sung this in her gig at the Village Vanguard a few years ago. Maybe she did! “We’ll Go Away Together” had a forward movement I hadn’t heard before, which was a nice change. The song is about going somewhere, after all.
Trotignon’s intro to “Trouble Man” (from *Lost in the Stars*) sounded like the worst indulgences of Windham Hill, the new agey record label that was so hot in the 80s and 90s. Am I the only person who didn’t like George Winston? I will say that Lindsey and Trotignon were truly dedicated to their vision of the song, and they didn’t do the song any harm.
The last song on the program was Zemlinsky’s “Selige Stunde.” After all of that drama and indulgence, it was nice to hear them end with something restrained and refined. Who knew that would be my preference? I think it’s a question of context: if you’re an opera singer doing a recital at La Scala, go ahead and do Weill, but even though Weill straddles the worlds between classical and jazz/show biz, you should lean more towards classical. My two bits.
Oh, an encore! “This Time Next Year,” a Weill song I’d never heard before, the last song he wrote before dying abruptly of a heart attack at 50. And yes, Miss Lindsey, the song does take on a new resonance knowing that it’s the last song he wrote, and for all of us in March of Covid Year Two, wondering what will be happening this time next year.
PS: Speaking of jazz waltzes, it gets no better than the theme from *Mannix.*