Lotte Lenya and the Ballad of Mack the Knife

Portrait of Lotte Lenya by Saul Bolasni.

The famous Austrian-born singer and actress, Lotte Lenya  was born Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer on 18 October 1898, to Catholic working class parents in Vienna. In 1914, she studied in Zürich, taking her first job at the Schauspielhaus, using the stage name Lotte Lenja. She later moved to Berlin in 1921 to seek work.

The following year, Lenya was noticed by German composer Kurt Weill, (who later became her husband), during an audition for his first stage score. She was cast, but owing to the  loyalty to her voice coach, she declined the role. It would take another two years before Lenya and Weill would meet again, in 1924.

It was then, that she accepted the part of Jenny in the first performance of the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill play, “The Threepenny Opera” (Die Dreigroschenoper) in 1928, which  became her break-through role.

  • Although Lenya and Weill married in 1926, they divorced in 1933, only to reconcile in September 1935, after emigrating to the United States.
  • They remarried in 1937.
  • Kurt Weill died in 1950.
  • Lottie Lenya died in Manhattan of cancer on 27 November, 1981, aged 83.
  • She is buried next to Weill at Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw, New York.

The following is from one of the Operas’ most famous songs: Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (“The Ballad of Mack the Knife”).

“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath, dear
And he keeps it out of sight”.

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