German-born, New York based cabaret diva Ute Lemper returns to Australia for next month, this time bringing a brand new show based on the love poems of the late, great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
The show is the latest in a long line of performances Lemper has created through her career to highlight the works of the men she admires: Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Kander & Ebb among them. Lemper started work on the show some 18 months ago, when she developed an interest in Latin American poetry.
“A lot of it is very political – Pablo Neruda’s included – but I got this little tiny book of some of Pablo’s other poems, really by coincidence, and started reading it on the road,” Lemper told the Star Observer from her country home in upstate New York.
“Instantly, I thought it was perfect. They were little compact poems that all have a natural rhythm and are, of course, all about love. It seemed like a perfect little cycle of poetry to put to music.”
Seeing as so many of her projects involve delving deep into the catalogues of departed writers and composers, we put it to Lemper that she seemed just as much a hungry scholar as a sultry cabaret star.
“No, no it’s all very intuitive – it’s not an academic approach at all. I look for the feelings and emotions in the music, that’s what I’m exploring. With this project, I wanted to make it feel fun and improvisational on stage, so it doesn’t feel like a classical recital,” she said.
Still, it’s hard to deny her desire to master new heights in her performance, even at the age of 50 and with more than 25 years in the business. In this show, for instance, she’ll perform half a dozen songs in Neruda’s native Spanish tongue – a language she doesn’t speak.
“I knew I had to do that to make it a proper homage to the poet, I needed to let it live in its original language. There are also French and English adaptations, which were easier as I speak those languages, but I think it’s always important to stay curious and set yourself new challenges,” she said breezily.
Longtime Lemper fans – those who’ve followed her through the early cabaret recordings to the pop albums of the late ‘90s, from the frequent stage work to the occasional star turns in Hollywood films (Pret-a-Porter, Prospero’s Books), should be pleased to know the second half of each of her Australian shows will be given over to some of the best-loved songs from across her long career. Whether Lemper herself is quite so enthused remains to be seen.
“I almost feel like it’s unnecessary, because the Neruda song cycle is such a strong statement and it has so much in it. But then again, it’s fun because I do have my fan base and they do want to hear the good old stuff. I suppose it is nice to top off a good show with half an hour of my best known songs.”
INFO: Ute Lemper tours Australia from September 13-23. Tour dates at utelemper.com