International chanteuse, Broadway star, composer… It is almost impossible to put any one label on the 30-year career of the celebrated German performer Ute Lemper. ­Famous for her interpretations of Kurt Weill, Bertold Brecht and Jacques Brel, her ­flexible, sumptuous voice and her ultra-long legs, Ute Lemper fills symphony halls and other large venues worldwide. As a Christmas treat, she revisits London to perform at the Barbican on December 17th.

On stage, Ute Lemper has the audience right in the palm of her hand. With her glorious voice, sharp wit and inventive performance, easily moving between four languages (French, German, Spanish and English), she is one of the rare German performers who have enjoyed international success over a long period of time. “Being German had its pros and cons,” the singer remembers of her first career steps. “My German nationality provoked a lot of interest in the Eighties when I started to tour the world. On the one hand, the public in America and England were curious about the famous charm of German women and wanted to see it with their own eyes. On the other hand, I had to hold intense discussions about the past. At that time I felt this was a complex responsibility.”

Ute Lemper’s career has spanned multiple genres and even art forms. She has released more than 20 albums, appeared in musical theatre and plays and exhibited her paintings in several galleries. Born 1963 in Munster, Germany, she completed her studies at The Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna. Soon she landed her breakthrough role in the original Viennese cast of the musical Cats. Major successes in a Paris production of Cabaret and Chicago followed. Ute Lemper remains true to her roots. “Performing in the musical Chicago was a very important step in my life,” she says. Production company Stage Entertainment has brought Chicago to Stuttgart, where the show premiered on 6 November with flying colours. Although we won’t be able to see her on stage in Stuttgart, Ute Lemper has been serving as an ambassador and supported the German cast. “I just visited the cast of the new  Chicago musical, they are really marvelous performers and, I am sure, the German production at the Stage Palladium Theatre in Stuttgart will be as exciting as the one on Broadway.”

“I take my freedom to work out my own interpretations”

Touring extensively, Ute Lemper won international acclaim for her live performances of Berlin and Parisian cabaret songs as popularised by Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. Her interpretations of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht songs are legendary but she is always on the lookout for new inspirations. In recent times she discovered her love for the Argentinian tango. “I take my freedom to do my own interpretations of the various music styles. In my music, there are elements of the Argentinian tango, a little bit of expressionism through my German roots, my affinity towards France provides for impressionistic elements and the jazz comes from my years in New York. So I try to draw the audience into my very special world.” Her latest programme features the Love Poems by Pablo Neruda set to music together with a tango ensemble. “Pablo Neruda is loved worldwide for his political engagement and his lyrics. It was an inspiration of a moment to put his love poems with their strong metaphorical language into music.”

“It was a wonderful journey!”

Today, Ute Lemper is very happy about how her career developed:  “There were many different stages in my life, moving away from Germany to Vienna, Paris, London and back to Paris. Now I have lived in New York for 18 years. It was a wonderful journey but sometimes not easy, very hard work, incredible effort up to personal sacrifice to juggle my stage career and family life.”

Ute Lemper is an inspiration to all working mums. The mother of four can tell us a thing or two about how to cope with a high-flying career and motherhood: “It is often difficult to find the right balance. Before they entered their school life, we often took them on tour. Now, I have a lot of support at home from my ex-husband, my husband, nanny and au-pair. But when I am at home it is very important to me that I spend as much quality time with my kids as possible. I am 100 per cent there for them when I’m home.”  Hence, Christmas is a really important family affair in the Lemper household:  “This year, we will celebrate Christmas at home. All my kids will be home from college and university, we will cook wonderful food, listen to music and the grandparents will come to visit. I really look forward to it.”

But before that, the celebrated German chanteuse has a very special treat up her sleeve for her London fans. On 17 December she will perform her programme Love Tango at Berlin at the Barbican.  “This concert will be rich with many musicians. It will be like a  ‘Best of’  journey through my repertoire that accompanied me through my life: famous chansons from Edith Piaf, Kurt Weil and Marlene Dietrich, my own songs and the beloved Argentinian Tango.”

Text: Cordelia Makartsev | Press Photo