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Zephyr Wafts Into Fifth Season On Theater Songs

The Met will turn into a cabaret Saturday when Zephyr begins its fifth season with an evening of Berlin theater songs dating from 1900 through the ‘20s.

Zephyr artistic director and pianist Kendall Feeney will be joined by sopranos Ann Fennessy, Cyndia Sieden and Susan Windham performing works by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and (of all unlikely suspects) Arnold Schoenberg.

The pieces originally were sung in Berlin cabarets.

Both Fennessy and Windham are well-known to Spokane audiences.

Fennessy has sung Mahler with the Spokane Symphony, Schubert with Allegro, ragtime with the Spokane Falls Brass Band and the national anthem at Chicago Bears’ games.

Windham has also performed with the symphony, Uptown Opera and in the Northwest Bach Festival. Windham is one-half of Duelling Divas with soprano Melissa Percy Drumm.

Seiden will be making her Spokane debut with Zephyr, owing to the illness of Johanne Blank, the soprano originally scheduled for Saturday’s performance.

“I heard about Cyndia from another singer I knew in Seattle,” Fennessy says. “I was pretty panicked and had no idea whether she’d even be interested or able to come on such short notice. I felt really lucky to get her.”

Sieden ordinarily sings such operatic roles as Donizetti’s Lucia, and Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’ Zerbinetta in houses such as the Vienna State Opera, Opera Bastille and Seattle Opera.

But she also recorded “Unquiet Peace,” an album of German theater songs for the Koch International label. The album contained some of the songs Feeney already had scheduled for Saturday’s Zephyr program.

Feeney’s search for music off the beaten track of the concert repertoire led her first to Weill, a classically trained composer who wrote symphonic and chamber music before he turned to the musical theater.

“I’ve been listening to Weill’s theater songs for 30 years,” Feeney says, “and I completely agree with Lotte Lenya, Weill’s widow, who says that these pieces are really art songs of the same quality as those of Schubert and Brahms.”

Weill’s songs for “The Three-Penny Opera,” “Mahgonny” and “Happy End,” music he wrote during the 1920s and ‘30s, came out of a tradition of songs written for Berlin’s cabarets.

Anyone who has seen the Marlene Dietrich classic “Blue Angel” or the more recent film “Cabaret” has a fairly clear idea about these institutions. They were combinations of characteristics of a neighborhood tavern, a low-class nightclub and a 1960s coffee house.

Four songs from “The Three-Penny Opera” have been arranged especially for Saturday’s concert by Eastern Washington University composition professor David Jones.

From Weill, it was a short step for Feeney to the nearly unknown songs of Eisler, a political activist and film composer who, like Weill, collaborated with the German playwright Bert Brecht.

Also like Weill, Eisler was classically trained, a student of Arnold Schoenberg.

“We always think of Schoenberg as the composer of very dense, very dissonant, very difficult music to listen to,” Feeney says.

“I’ll bet not many people know that he wrote cabaret songs and that he was, for a while, even the music director for the most famous of Berlin’s cabarets, the Ueberbrettl. So these songs show a very different side of Schoenberg.”

xxxx ZEPHYR Location and time: The Met, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $12 and $14, $8 for students


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