Review: JULIA MIGENES SINGS KURT WEILL European Style at the Odyssey

By: Nov. 30, 2015
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Celebrated mezzo-soprano Julia Migenes has returned to the Odyssey Theatre with her newest show JULIA MIGENES SINGS KURT WEILL once again directed by Academy Award-nominated director Peter Medak. Paring things down to the bare essentials of voice and piano on an almost empty stage, Migenes takes the audience on a musical journey to the heart of Weill's music, from Berlin to Paris to New York. Accompanied by Mitsuko Morikawa on piano, Migenes performs in the language of each "stopover" - German, French and English - exploring the work of this brilliant composer and the powerful lyrics that complement his music.

Unfortunately, like many of the audience, I do not understand German and it's been years since I studied French, so the lyrics were unrecognizable and made the performance a bit of a letdown since I had no idea what she was singing about, even though Migenes has a spectacular operatic voice and did her best to explain the story of the song before singing it. But even her marvelous acting out of some lyrics did little to assist in understanding what she was singing about. For American audiences, Ms. Migenes might want to sing the songs in English along with the original language of the lyrics, which would make each song much more interesting to the audience.

That said, her performance was like taking a step back to the 1930s, watching the remarkable Lotte Lenya performing her husband's songs during the time he collaborated with Bertolt Brecht to create atonal melodies meant to shock audiences into realizing the masses were, like today, being controlled by the wealthy, upper 1% of society. "Lotte Lenya herself came backstage after I performed Mahagonny and gave me a rose," Migenes says. "That is one of my most precious memories." No doubt the two women were connected to their souls, given how Migenes interpreted her songs.

Julia Migenes grew up in New York City, where she graduated from the prestigious High School of Music and Art. As a teenager, she was chosen to sing in Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, then starred as Hodel, opposite Zero Mostel, in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. According to Migenes, her love of German music began as a young singer in Vienna at the Volksoper. "I've performed in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, singing Bach, Mozart, Alban Berg, Schoenberg, Mahler, Shubert, Richard Strauss, Johan Strauss and Lehar," she adds. "This is why I have such a close relationship with Weill, and why I prefer to sing his music in the original style and language."

Migenes has a long history singing Weill, including her portrayal of Jenny Diver, opposite Raul Julia, in Mack the Knife, a 1990 feature film adaptation of The Threepenny Opera. She won an Edison Award for her performance on the CD version of The Seven Deadly Sins, conducted by Michael Tilsen Thomas, and she has sung Mahagonny at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Her accompanist Mitsuko Morikawa has been working as a professional accompanist for over 14 years. She was joy to watch as her fingers danced across the keys, always mindful of the atonality and harshness necessary to convey the mood of Weill's music.

Along with director Peter Medak and lighting designer Bosco Flanagan, Migenes has created a realistic representation of what life was like in a cabaret in Weimar Germany to a tee. Step back in time and enjoy!

Performances of JULIA MIGENES SINGS KURT WEILL continue on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through January 16. All tickets are $35. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in West L.A., 90025. For reservations call (310) 477-2055 or go to

Photos of Julia Migenes and accompanist Mitsuko Morikawa. Photo credit: Enci Box


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