German singer Gisela May is arguably the definitive native interpreter of the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill for her generation (she was born in 1924, four years before the premiere of The Threepenny Opera). On this recording, she demonstrates that expertise convincingly. The songs are presented in their original orchestrations, and May formally introduces each song before singing it, giving a recital-like effect and perhaps echoing Brecht's spoken introductions to the 1930 recording of The Threepenny Opera. Having thus distanced herself from the material, however, May throws herself into her characterizations, conceiving each performance as an acting as well as a singing challenge. She takes on songs from Happy End, Berlin Requiem, The Threepenny Opera, and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, giving each one a committed reading that does not shirk from Brecht's provocative sentiments. May is not as vulnerable, nor as funny, a performer as her predecessor, Lotte Lenya (Weill's wife), but she renders the songs with all their nuance and power. And, as she had recorded these songs before and was in her early 60s when she made this album in 1987, her performances have the quality of a victory lap.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann