Her musicians, (John Benthal on guitar, Victor Villena on bandoneon, Vana Gierig on piano, Steve Millhouse on bass and Micha Molthoff on violin) preceded her on stage, and the cool, cross-cultural cabaret quintet didn’t waste any time in creating a latin-infused jazz ambience. Not long after they had established a rhythm and mood, Lemper sauntered on, dressed in a slinky burgundy gown, and was welcomed with warm applause as she sang her first notes. From that moment on, the audience was hers completely as she worked her unique magic with word and song.
Ms. Lemper has put together a set based on the love poems of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda; she first wrote the melodies that the rhythm and the sound of the poet’s words inspired in her, and then went about setting his words to that music. This appears to be a true labour of love, almost wholly conceived and undertaken by Lemper. The resulting songs refer in spirit to her influences, Brel, Weill, Ferré, Piazzolla, but they are her own, and she gives them over to her audience with generosity and passion.
She sings these love poems in Spanish, French and English, and the sentiments she expresses aren’t defined by any one tongue; certainly the music she has written speaks its own language. The songs are full of rhythm, and those rhythms are built on the dynamics of love in all its forms; sometimes it’s a lament, sometimes it’s hopeful, sometimes it’s a dream, sometimes it’s felt through its own absence. Particularly poignant are “La Nuit dans l’ile,” “Madrigal Escrito en Invierno,” and “The Saddest Poem/Nr. 20.” Neruda’s words are in caring, graceful, and ardent hands with Lemper, and she speaks of Neruda’s life and legacy with great reverence as she leads us through these eleven song-poems.
After the interval, Ms. Lemper returns to perform some of her best-loved numbers – a selection of songs by Weill, Brel, Hollaender, Ferré and Piaf. She reemerges from backstage, this time in a slinky, sparkling black dress, and the mood is slightly different. There’s more play, more light-hearted banter, and it feels like a return to familiar territory. She revisits some cabaret classics, and the audience reacts with applause and cheers as she begins one familiar tune after another, occasionally flashing her gorgeous gams, twirling her imaginary cane and tipping her bowler hat slyly across her forehead. Her rendition of Brel’s “Amsterdam” is exhilarating, her “Mackie Messer” is darkly funny, and her finale of “Milord” is a rousing end to an enchanting evening.
Lemper stayed just long enough after the show to sign autographs and pose for a few photos with those who wanted to linger in that enchanted state. Would that she would linger just a little bit longer too, next time she breezes through “Perte.”
Maggie Gerrand presents
Ute Lemper Sings the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda
Friday 13 September
Bookings: Qtix – 136 246 | brisbanefestival.com.au
Saturday 15 September
Perth Concert Hall
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au
Wednesday 18 September
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | artscentremelbourne.com.au
Saturday 21 September
Bookings: Venue*Tix 08 8225 8888 | venuetix.com.au
Monday 23 September
Sydney Opera House
Bookings: 02 9250 7777 | sydneyoperahouse.com