Three “Seven Deadly Sins”

Here are three very different excerpts from the prologue to Kurt Weill‘s “Seven Deadly Sins.” (You can hear it performed live in Carnegie Hall at Spring For Music by Storm Large and the Detroit Symphony, Thursday May 9, 2013)

Three very different approaches here. Obvious a disagreement over tempo. But note the difference in the quality of the singers’ voices – not so much in terms of which is better than the others, but the kind of voice each is. What are those differences? How does the slow tempo of the second example change the music? Does it work? What were the performers trying to accomplish by slowing it down? Again, come up with three words to describe each performance. Be specific.

Lotte Lenya

Teresa Stratas – Kent Nagano conducting the Lyons Opera Orchestra (Peter Sellers, directed this 1993 production

Ute Lemper


  1. Marian Godfrey says:

    Lotte Lenya: her performance seemed to me to be demotic, working-girl (though prettier than her delivery sometimes was), on the edge of despair but stoic. Orchestral sound trudging, weary–rhythimically, tramp tramp tramp.

    Teresa Stratas: operatic, pretty–in a higher key as befits an operatic soprano–singing the words Louisiana and Mississippi in this vocal style is strange, off-putting–distancing but not in the Brechtian way; orchestral sound more of a yearning sadness, lyrical; higher key contributes to that.

    Ute Lemper: conversational, telling a story; both voice and orchestra legato, languid, lighter in texture and more transparent than the other two.

    That’s what I heard. Thanks for the opportunity to listen, and listen.

  2. Kathleen James says:

    Lotte Lenya – bawdy, gritty, authentic
    Teresa Stratas – operatic, I characteristic, music sounds more like “something’s gonna happen”, almost Hitchcockian
    Ute Lemper – believable, world-weary, broadway-like

  3. This is a total cop-out but I think these three all work in their different ways. I think that Lotte Lenya and Ute Lemper’s voices match more closely what you might expect in cabaret: conversational, confiding, seemly free from the confines of (what I think of as) classical singing. But the Teresa Stratus version is striking not only because of the slower tempo, which makes the song more of a lament, but also because of the dramatic change when she drops her voice from (sort of) lieder-like intonation to speech at the end.
    1. dogged, fatalistic, conversational
    2. exhausted, lamenting, confessional
    3. muted, sensitive, self-possessed

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