Adrienne Haan’s diabolical Weimar Berlin Cabaret “Between Fire and Ice” was a great fit for the unique Cabaret series at Café Sabarsky, which is primarily devoted to German and Austrian music of the 1890s to 1930s. The Viennese-style café in the Neue Galerie, named after the museum’s co-founder Serge Sabarsky, and outfitted with Josef Hoffman sconces, Adolf Loos bentwood chairs, and Otto Wagner fabrics serves specialty Austrian fare and projects an atmosphere reminiscent of the rich and multifaceted culture of Berlin and Vienna of that era.
Established by Ronald Lauder, the prestigious museum’s collection of works by so-called “degenerate artists,” as well as art and objects from the Vienna Secession, creates an environment conducive to atmospheric music that reflects the period’s Zeitgeist; it was a time exploding with creativity and rebellion, characterized by the persistent search for one’s own identity and expression in a changing socio-political climate, famously portrayed by another female heroine, Marlene Dietrich, in her prominent film role of Lili Marlene. Haan calls it: “The dance on the volcano between the two World Wars, a bodacious period probing the ties between feminine struggle and female glamour.”
Café Sabarsky’s established cabaret series has seen some of the genre’s great talents; the name Ute Lemper, a high-caliber representative of this particular German-flavored art form, spiked with intense theatrical drama and calculated audience engagement, comes to mind.
Adrienne Haan’s sold out program this Thursday, attended by both the German and Austrian Ambassadors to the UN, was Haan’s debut performance at Café Sabarsky, and like cabaret’s all-star, Lemper, Haan animates the room and keeps her audience leaning in with suspense. Often engaging audience members with direct interactions, Haan’s provocative, fun-filled, and sometimes slightly overdone flirtations in honor of “Jonny’s Birthday” abruptly turn into spouts of melodic outburst and spiteful hissing for Brecht/Weil’s charismatic “Seeräuber (Pirate) Jennie.” Altering the mood in the room with every number, she never loses a beat. Haan’s theatrically well-conceived and highly sensitive musical interpretations are piercing. In fact, her poignant and emotionally intense delivery reaches even audience members that may have never heard the well-known melodies or do not fully comprehend some of the German texts infused into the otherwise mostly English repertoire. A potent soprano, Haan’s range of artistry does full justice to the sensuous melodies and inquisitive lyrics of compositions by Misha Spolansky/Marcellus Schiffer, Friderich Hollaender, and Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht.
(photo left) The great connection between Haan and Richard Danley at the piano is apparent; Danley has collaborated with Haan for the past 13 years at many of her New York performances. Haan’s accuracy and clear devotion to keeping her delivery honest with the character of each of these show pieces is particularly impressive. “This is the most important aspect when portraying this kind of repertoire,” she says, “you can’t just croon this flat out. You have to feel the emotional component, and like an actress, become one with the role.” And that she does: her performance is rounded out with a bountiful dose of temperament and a dash of nostalgia, but only where nostalgia is due.
While stringing these rare cultural pearls from the past and uniquely foreign aura often seems to call for a delivery portrayed with a fake sentimental slant, Haan begs to differ – her scripted realization of these art songs is never cliché; she reserves room for a deeply felt, personal freshness and a smart bite – she is a true interpreter of the genre.
Like some of the paintings within the café’s neighboring galleries of the old world 19th century villa, Haan vibrantly portrays the full bag of mixed (sometimes excessive) characteristics and emotions, like the attractive and the ugly, the rebellious and the shady, the fear and hope so inherently depicted by the art of the time. Psychological precision, and therefore a deep understanding of the underlying message of these varying characteristics, lies at the heart of cabaret’s theatrical/musical art. Haan proves to have both, the charm to make it amusing, and the conceptual flexibility to bring this music to life, making the audience laugh and sob, and perhaps even igniting a curiosity in her audience to explore this repertoire further – an inspiration with the potential to transform.
On October 29th, Adrienne Haan will perform her program TEHORAH at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, conceived in honor of the 50th anniversary of German/Israeli diplomatic relations. Tehorah, which means pure in Hebrew, features music of 1920s Weimar Berlin, Yiddish Klezmer, and contemporary music sung in Hebrew arranged for the multi-lingual singer, piano, and string quartet. The performance will be directed by German pianist and conductor Heinz Walter Florin. Fifty years after the holocaust, the story about war, loss, hope, and forgiveness promises to be a heart-wrenching experience, calling upon music as an ambassador of peace.
Ilona Oltuski – http://GetClassical.org