Once one of my students approached me and excitedly related how she had just heard Ute Lemper. My student (whose name I will not mention) was so happy to have found this new music that I only encouraged her to listen to more. Actually, what I wanted to tell her was to listen to Dagmar Krause's interpretations instead. It must be said that Ute Lemper's interpretations of Weill are very popular, and that they are just that, popular. They are finely tuned for the ear of the lover of a musical theater that is either without social content, or that has been, as in the case of her interpretations, often stripped of its social aspects.
This might seem too harsh a judgment, and it can be countered by:
1] the songs themselves always carry their social meaning; and
2] that the setting of these songs was in popular musical theater, and so to emphasize this aspect of the songs is more important than their intended content. The last objection is of course akin to those who make comments like "I never listen to the lyrics, I just like the beat." Such a level of interpretation seems legitimate and difficult to rebut precisely because it is so lacking in any worthwhile content.
Krause elevates what might be a mere show-tune to the level of a song. Lemper's emphasis is on the show-tune. Now one might say that these are show-tunes and so Lemper's performance is more "authentic." This is to a certain extent quite true, if one is looking for authenticity. But the authenticity of a time is also its illustrative of its ideological apparatus. And so to be more authentic is just as much to put on the ideological blinders of the period and place, and these affirmations of this period and place were beyond a doubt to be found on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Krause on the other hand brings out the negative, critical aspects of the songs, for Broadway was not the only context for the songs of Weill and Eisler. Some of course come before their engagement with Hollywood and the musical theater. All the songs have a negative, or critical, aspect that only Krause is able to reveal to the listener. The larger context for the songs are of course the era of the World Wars, with all its social and political upheaval. Krause's interpretation places the songs not in the theater, but in the social world.
The differences in Krasue's and Lemper's interpretation carries over into their voices. Krause again places these in a larger context by reminding the listener of her earlier performances with Henry Cow, and The Art Bears bands noted not only for their music, but for their politics as well. That some insist on referring to her voice as "highly original and idiosyncratic" or even "the voice of the angel of the Apocalypse" is due only to the distance these bands were from the conventions of popular music. Knowing these earlier associations, the very fact of her interpreting them moves the songs of Weill and Eisler away from the theater and back into the stream of music associated with Krause's earlier solo and group recordings. In doing so, Krause has changed what it means to authentically interpret these songs.
Below are to clips that illustrate the point.
For Ute Lemper you have to follow the link as it cannot be embedded.
Ute Lemper ~ Surabaya Johnny:
Dagmar Krause ~ Surabaya Johnny: Unfortunately the only one from the records that I could find.
Supply and Demand: Songs by Brecht/Weill and Eisler (1986, LP, Hannibal Records)
Angebot und Nachfrage (1986, LP, Hannibal Records)
Tank Battles: The Songs of Hanns Eisler (1988, LP, Island Records)
Panzerschlacht: Die Lieder von Hanns Eisler (1988, LP, Island Records)
Voiceprint Radio Sessions (1993, CD, Voiceprint Records)
These is another performance of Lemper that shows the show-tune side of a Weill song: Ute Lemper "The Saga of Jenny" at the Internet Archive