I mentioned a few posts ago that Ute Lemper was appearing here last week and appear she did. I had put off buying tickets as both of us where feeling a bit under the weather - that bloddy rain in Spain!!!!. Wednesday evening, after a rather eventful day, I decided I was up to it - Laurent had just spent his first day back at work and was beat - so I headed off to the Auditorium to get a last minute ticket. After all how popular would someone like her be here in Roma?
Well from the back row of the seats at the back of the stage as I looked over an almost full house (the Salla Santa Cecilia seats 2,700) I got the answer to my question. Very popular grazie! So popular, in fact, that an episode with a heckler led to a spontaneous display of support and affection.
Her latest programme, Last Tango in Berlin, is an eclectic mix of her repetory with the emphasis on the music of the tango and more particularly Astor Piazzolla. The programme began with Piazzolla's Balada paro mi muerte which sequed into a Piaf standard L'Accordéoniste. The two numbers showed Lemper at her best and, for me at least, her worst. The first number has all the trademarks of her style and range, the second showed the extremes that she can go to in trying to make a number "dramatic". L'Accordeoniste does not need that sort of overstatement - the built in staccato of the lyrics and music do that for the singer.
Her last number three numbers were requests - Lili Marleen, a medley of Yiddish songs and to end another Piaf favorite Milord and again my feeling was that here she showed her best and worst. Lili Marleen was iconic, the Yiddish songs having a particular drive and with some interesting vocalise but the Moustaki penned Milord being overwrought to the point of being unintelligible. But between the two we got a selection of Piazzolla - Balada para un Loca translated into a hymn to the crazy people of her adopted New York, Brecht/Weill - Moritat von Mecky Messer another iconic performance stripped of its Americanized jazz frills, some incredible scat including a Louis Armstrong inspired trumpet rift - I honestly thought it was a real trumpet for a minute and a gripping Ne me quitte pas. As a tribute to her host country she sang, for the first time, Nino Rota's hauting theme from Amarcord. She also hinted that the music of Rota deserves a closer inspection - as indeed it does.
Though at times her interpretations may be questionable what is never in question is her charisma as a stage animal. Her patter in English and French weaves in and out of the music and sometimes becomes music in itself. This is a performer who knows how to play an audience and deal with a heckler if need be.
Given that the audience was predominately Italian perhaps a cut in some of the chatter would have been in order. In fact one of the audience took exception to the lengthy introduction of the bandoneón and yelled out: Less talk more songs! Within seconds I'm sure he was regretting his spontaneous outburst. The audience was entirely with Lemper and made it more than obvious. Her response - a suggestion that she could sing longer than he could control his bladder - was greeted with hoots, whistles and prolonged applause. She good-naturedly returned to her heckler several times throughout the evening including asking him to suggest an encore. She gave him the requested Lili Marleen.
Lemper has a fine backup trio playing with her for this stint. Vana Gierig on piano had several opportunities to show his stuff particularly during the Cabaret number. And bassist Steve Millhouse gave strong backup but the gem of the evening was Tito Castro a bandoneón player in the great Argentine tradition.
Here's a sample of Lemper doing, what for me at least, was one of the best numbers of the evening:
23 gennaio - Sant'Emerenziana