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MUSIC REVIEW : 'Cabaret': Mood Music Loses Its Atmosphere at the Bowl

July 22, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even if life is a cabaret (old chum), the Hollywood Bowl definitely isn't . With nearly 18,000 seats on a hillside facing a half-buried architectural saucer, it's obvious that this amphitheater is no intimate, atmospheric boite , and titling the Wednesday pops concert "A Cabaret" represented the first of the evening's miscalculations.

Conducting the Bowl Orchestra, John Mauceri presented instrumental music by composers who fled the Nazis and ended up writing scores for Broadway musicals or Hollywood films. In concept, his choices provided an expanded artistic context for guest soloist Ute Lemper's medley of Kurt Weill songs--and, to a lesser extent, her tributes to Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf.

Unfortunately, the theme of artistic displacement wasn't enough to make the grandiose soundtrack music that Mauceri conducted as satisfying as the gritty and often profound ballads sung by the charismatic Lemper. In particular, the endless, bloated "Hotel Berlin" waltzes by Franz Waxman proved a tedious intrusion on Lemper's performances of great passion and stylistic authority.

Strangely, the young German vocalist never sounds more ravishing than when she sings in French, and never more problematic than when she sings in English. In "La Vie en Rose" and "Les Feuilles Mortes" on Wednesday, her beauty of tone and mastery of nuance seemed to belong to another artist than the tight-throated, desperately histrionic interpreter of "They Call Me Naughty Lola" or the Alabama Song. Even when she switched from German to English midway through a stark rendition of "Falling in Love Again," Lemper became suddenly diminished, somehow prosaic.

In her Weill suite, Lemper invoked both the moon of Alabama and the old Bilbao moon, but, alas, no kind of moon pierced the clouds over the Bowl until much later. No matter. Accompanied only by pianist and arranger Bruno Fontaine, she offered a drop-dead definitive "Surabaya Johnny," a sustained meditation on hopeless longing (from "Happy End") that Lemper made into a lament for all abused women everywhere.

Weill's overture to "Lady in the Dark" suffered Wednesday from Mauceri's tendency to flatten out highly theatrical music and from the curious warping of the show songs previewed therein--especially "One Life to Live." His finest moment: the artful buildup to (and through) "Lost in the Stars" during a Weill "Songbook for Orchestra" originally arranged by Morton Gould and reworked by Mauceri for this occasion.

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