Among the first of — but certainly not the last of the year — centennial tributes to Kurt Weill was, at best, an opportunity to hear some of the composer’s least-known and rarely heard theater songs. Linked by a sketchy biographical narrative, soprano Joy Bogen and baritone Steven Kimbrough offered a somewhat indifferent program of some two dozen of Weill’s songs. With a few exceptions, what was glaringly apparent was the shortage of the gritty emotional fiber of Weill’s early Berlin period, and the bittersweet ardor of his Broadway offerings.
Weill, composer of “The Threepenny Opera,” was born March 2, 1900, and fled Nazi Germany with his wife, Lotte Lenya, in the early ’30s. Settling in Manhattan, he collaborated with lyricists Maxwell Anderson, Ogden Nash and Ira Gershwin, creating a handful of memorable Broadway triumphs. Noted in the program bio is that Bogen was the only student tutored by Lenya herself and has become a Weill specialist on the concert circuit.
Rather than just sing such haunting serenades as “Speak Low,” “Here I’ll Stay,” “It Never Was You” and “My Ship,” Bogen, who was badly miked, was given to a great deal of posing and posturing, sashaying like a seductive vixen.
A somewhat strident and often tentative soprano, her sultry and stagy theatrics upstaged the dark dignity and grace of the lyrics. For a student of Lenya, she missed the interpretive point by yards. One need only listen to Lenya’s recordings to rediscover the truth.
Kimbrough offered sturdy readings of the timeless serenade of an older man’s affection for a younger woman, “September Song” and “Lost in the Stars,” both of which are illuminated by the Anderson lyrics.
Unfortunately, the baritone was often confined to an unlit stool in the corner of the stage.
Among the rarer pieces from the extensive canon is “Miriam’s Song,” a selection from Weill’s ambitious biblical opera “The Eternal Road,” which was first presented in the United States in 1937 and revived this month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Also included was the world premiere of “Time Is Standing Still” from the unproduced “Davy Crockett,” and “Apple Jack” from the uncompleted “Huckleberry Finn.” The composer was working on the latter, when he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 50. From a historical point of view, these were qualified treats for theatre buffs.
“Mack the Knife” was saved for the finale in a dismissive performance by the duo, in which the audience was invited to sing along.
Program was hampered by severe audio problems, the most disturbing being a percussionist who, through no fault of his own, often overrode Bogen’s projection.